AGC Conversational Case Studies: A special sauce for contest success?

This post was written by Allison Fine on behalf of the Case Foundation:

For this third and final Conversational Case Study on America’s Giving Challenge from Beth Kanter and I, we wil pose a question rather than answer one: Is there a “special sauce” for successful participation in online fundraising contests?

Any good sauce is always a combination of ingredients, never just one thing. So is successful social fundraising. Based on our assessment and review of winning efforts in other contests, it seems clear that some of the key ingredients include:

Personal Appeals

People naturally respond more frequently to personal appeals from family and friends. Personal solicitations to existing donors and friends through multiple channels were rated as the most effective methods for fundraising by Challenge participants. Thirty-five percent rated messaging to friends through Facebook as most effective; 32 percent rated personal email to friends, family and colleagues as effective or most effective; and 25% rated email to existing organizational donor base as effective or most effective.


Many of the winners cited the importance of thanking donors profusely throughout the contest. Food for People not only made personal appeals to their donors but also went to great effort thanking their donors knowing that a well-thanked donor is likely to help solicit their own friends for the cause.


Creating public spaces to share information about who is doing what is also a very effective strategy. The Overseas China Education Fund maintained and shared a wiki about who was asked to do what.

Spreading Out the Work

One of the most powerful attributes of social media is the ability of large numbers of people to coordinate their actions as part of a larger event. This type of grassroots activism can be enormously effective for contests or any type of cause-based movement.

Some like Atlas Corps recruited 150 “Campaign Captains” before the contest started. These Captains agreed to get between 5-10 of their friends to give to Atlas Corps during the contest. One of the Captains was so excited about the contest that he made a challenge to his friends that if 100 of his friends donated to Atlas Corps he would go on a 30-mile bike ride in his underwear. His friends responded and he lived up to his promise. Take a look at the bottom and see for yourself!

Other organizations broke their efforts down into bite size pieces for their volunteers by creating templates to use to send messages to their friends, post and comment on blogs, and create their own videos. Here is a template page for the Challenge created by GlobeMed for its supporters.

A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Donors

Most of the winners, including our first Conversational Case Study organization Darius Goes West, chronicled their efforts by video. Students involved in GlobeMed made a series of videos and posted them on YouTube.

Face-to-Face Can’t be Forgotten

Brick and mortar methods still reign as a highly important aspect of online giving campaigns. Five Star worked with their local Chamber of Commerce gathering to set up a laptop and how to give in-person donations.

Contests are important to this concoction because they provide a framework for engaging the community, an urgent deadline for action and, in best cases (such as the Giving Challenge), matching funds for the winners. But in the end, we wonder if there is some other unique quality or combination of these ingredients that makes each person or groups efforts “special” and successful, that turns some combination of activities into a community of energetic people actively engaged in supporting a friend or a cause.

Our questions to our readers, doers, champions and participants, are these:

  • In your experience does a concoction, some blend of activities and tasks, exist, that makes some groups or people more successful than others in fundraising contests? And if so, what are they?
  • Under what circumstances does some combination of activities work best?
  • Is there a tool or action you think might work well in the future that you’d like to test next time (e.g. a geo-location service like Foursquare?)
  • Are we trying too hard to be prescriptive in discussing sauces, and should we just let people create their own recipes?

Guest blogger Allison Fine is a writer and activist dedicated to understanding and enhancing efforts to use new, social media tools for social change.

Public-Private strategy session with White House takes citizen participation to the next level

This morning, I have the honor of kicking off the public-private strategy session we’re hosting with the White House on driving innovation and civic dialogue through the use of prizes, challenges and open grantmaking.

I feel a great sense of excitement as we head into this dialogue that focuses largely on new, breakthrough opportunities to more fully engage citizens in our public sector efforts. Here at the Case Foundation, we began to see the potential in these types of approaches to ignite civic participation, especially when combined with new interactive technologies, when we launched the Make It Your Own Awards in 2007. Since then, we have seen that potential grow as both the philanthropic and corporate sectors have continued to experiment through programs that incent the public to participate in decision-making.

Now, we have the opportunity to take lessons we’ve learned – and those of peers – from these early innovations and apply them to a sector where they have the potential to make the most impact on the public – in the federal government. Through the early experimentation, we’ve seen that there is a clear appetite from the public to have a more active role in making decisions that affect their daily lives and their communities, and now it’s time to capitalize on that appetite by creating opportunities and moments that capture the best ideas and move them forward.

Earlier this week, I was asked “why now?” when it comes to the government’s adoption of prizes and challenges. Frankly, I don’t think it was possible until now – the merging of the movement toward improving transparency and reducing bureaucracy at the federal level, with the evolution of Web 2.0 technologies has opened the door for the creation of programs that can successfully engage the public and encourage their direct involvement in driving innovation and improving how government serves them.  At its core, this is an opportunity for government to return to the roots of democracy – a government that is for the people, and more significantly by the people.

And since this day-long session is all about reaching new audiences to identify new solutions and engaging all citizens in decision-making, we’re particularly excited about the fact that we’ll be able to bring the day to the public – no matter where they are. We encourage everyone interested in this topic to join our interactive CaseSoup Q&A sessions featuring leading innovators in this space, taking place online and live from the event. The schedule includes an exciting mix of public and private sector experts and practitioners, including Sonal Shah of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. CTO, the team from the Pepsi Refresh Project and others. We’ll hope you’ll join us on this exciting day!

The White House embraces wisdom of the crowds. What do you think?

This post was written by Michael Smith on behalf of the Case Foundation:

On Friday, April 30 we’re teaming up with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council (where the Office of Social Innovation resides) to bring the private and public sectors together to discuss lessons and strategies from experiments in prizes, challenges and open grantmaking – big and small.

This meeting is part of our continued efforts to encourage citizen involvement in decisions that affect them, and it’s part of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive, which requires agencies to tap the expertise and ingenuity of the American people to bring the top talent & best ideas to bear on our nation’s most pressing problems.

As I said in my blog post launching our series on Citizen-Centered Solutions last month, we have been experimenting with programs like this since we launched our Make It Your Own Awards and America’s Giving Challenge in 2007 – and we could not be more excited about the flood of similar programs that have come since then…  everything from the American Express Members Project to this year’s Pepsi Refresh Project and now the White House telling agencies to tap into the knowledge and innovation of the people it serves! I may be a bit of a civic engagement nerd, but the possibilities of breaking down barriers and moving beyond the stale and stagnated when we commit to reaching new audiences and democratizing problem solving gives me goose bumps…  really.

The meeting on Friday will highlight leading private sector innovators like the X Prize Foundation, American Express, PepsiCo, and the Knight Foundation along with cutting edge federal government innovators from DARPA, NASA, and the Department of Education. More than 100 federal government workers who are charged with implementing these new programs will listen to panels, participate in interactive discussions and Ignite sessions (where select participants will have three minutes to present new ideas) and hear from six senior officials from across the White House.

Prizes and challenges have proven to be effective in mobilizing the masses and identifying brilliant new ideas; however, we will be asking ourselves the tough questions, like…

  • How do you ensure transparency in decision making?
  • How do you ensure quality and impact?
  • How do you determine what problems should be tackled by an in-house team, contracted out, or opened to all through a prize?
  • And, how do you wade through the bureaucracy that makes innovation and taking new paths seem almost impossible.

We don’t want to take on these questions alone. So, while the capacity of this room may be limited we want to expand this discussion to as many people as possible. That’s why we’re hosting a day long series of live, interactive CaseSoup interviews with speakers from the event giving you a chance to hear from them and ask questions via social media. That’s why all panels and keynotes will be filmed and made available to the public the week of May 3rd. And, that’s why today, we’re asking that you take a look at the agenda and comment on this blog post with any questions that you would ask or any thoughts you have on what we’re trying to accomplish. So, let your voice be heard. What do you think?