Online contests have become much more common since the first America’s Giving Challenge. This is particularly true in the United States. According to a Knight Foundation report, 79 percent of the giving contests they analyzed occurred in the United States.
It is important to note that with the rise of the contest - particularly cause marketing contests - come challenges for nonprofits. The greatest risk is fatigue by donors and supporters through repeated asks to participate in giving contests.
Some contests have a winner-take-all, or at least most, of the donations or prizes. This creates many more losers than winners. The America’s Giving Challenge design ensured that all participants could raise friends and funds simply by participating without necessarily being one of the top winners eligible for matching grants from the Case Foundation and its partners.
Contests for change need to have an end goal in mind. In its online giving contest report, And the Winner Is…, McKinsey & Company said, “Good prizes will start with a clearly-defined aspiration for societal benefit, which can be translated into specific prize objectives that are significant, motivational, actionable, results-focused, and time-bound.” Without a theory of change, an online giving challenge becomes rudderless and without impact. We find that’s not a good use of a nonprofit’s time, nor of its donors or volunteers.
All of these issues create a need for nonprofits to make the decision of whether and how to participate in funding contests of strategic importance. This is particularly true for smaller organizations with fewer resources to devote to fundraising.
In the second Conversational Case Study, Students for a Free Tibet’s Melanie Raoul, a winner in both America’s Giving Challenges, said: “Online contests can take a lot out of your volunteers, members, and staff. We don’t enter every contest that comes along. We pick one per year.”
Several considerations have emerged for nonprofits to consider when vetting contests for their fundraising effort:
Collectively these criteria represent a mechanism to vet some of the challenges a contest can present.
As nonprofits continue to engage in contests, and as foundations and corporations continue to support and underwrite them, we hope they do so with an eye towards all of the positive impact that any particular contest might offer.