The second America's Giving Challenge leveraged the lessons learned from the 2007-2008 Giving Challenge, and came at a time when the economy was at a significant low, social media adoption by individuals and nonprofits was growing stronger and more and more online charitable contests and challenges were starting to sprout up. The Challenge raised more than $2.1 million for nonprofits from 105,000 donations in just 30 days.
We once again asked Beth Kanter and Allison Fine to review and assess the Challenge, paying close attention to lessons that could guide future challenge organizers and participants. In addition to closely analyzing data and conducting interviews with participants, Allison and Beth conducted “living” case studies, which were published on our blog and cultivated a public discussion to inform their conclusions. This report is easy to digest, featuring topline results, key findings, and Conversational Case Studies highlighting winners.
By Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine of Zoetica
It is our pleasure to submit this final report to the Case Foundation assessing the 2009 America’s Giving Challenge. Over the course of two Challenges in three years, the Foundation and its partners at PARADE Publications and Causes have inspired many other corporations and foundations to launch contests of their own and enhanced the capacity of nonprofit organizations and their champions to utilize social media to raise funds, supporters and awareness. Nonprofit organizations, philanthropies of all types, government agencies and the corporate community will all find value in the best practices and lessons learned contained in this report and the related case studies.
We believe the Case Foundation’s efforts as pioneers in charitable contests, challenges and open grantmaking have helped to catalyze the widespread proliferation of these approaches and associated best practices for promoting innovation and leveraging public participation. A number of survey respondents mentioned in the open-ended comments that Case Foundation played a significant leadership role in the prevalence of online giving contests. One respondent said, “Thanks so much for being the innovators of online giving contests. Because of your effort there [are] many more opportunities that rally non profit teams across the country. That's a win.”
But it’s not just a win for the Case Foundation and its partners. The general contest trend has contributed to the industry’s adoption of online fundraising via social media. It’s a testimony to the entire nonprofit sector’s growth in social media adoption and capacity to effectively use these tools to raise money and awareness for social change work.
Thank you to the contest participants who made both America’s Giving Challenges such successes. And thank you to the many individuals from multiple sectors who shared their insights and invested in online conversations about the report’s findings.
Beth Kanter and Allison Fine
The 2009 America’s Giving Challenge, presented by the Case Foundation, Causes and PARADE Publications (with additional matching funds provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) was a national online competition that enabled passionate individuals and nonprofit organizations to easily leverage their online and offline personal networks to increase awareness, attract new donors, and encourage people to get and stay involved with causes they care about. This was the second America’s Giving Challenge; the first ran from December 2007 through January 2008. Both Challenges were effective in helping the nonprofit sector become more skilled in its use of social media and inspiring other corporations and foundations to launch similar online contests.
The 2007 contest pioneered the million-dollar social media-driven philanthropic contest era. The 2009 contest rode the crest of the contest wave amidst other mega contests like the Chase Community Giving Contest and the Pepsi Refresh Project. There were two primary differences between the first and the second round of the Challenge. The first difference was a shortening of the total time of the contest from fifty to thirty days. The second was the change in the rules concerning donors. In the first round an individual could only donate to a Cause once. This was changed in the second round to allow donors to give as often as they wanted (limited to one donation per day), and some Champions did just that by asking their donors to give on a daily or weekly basis.
In total, $1,990,805 was raised from individuals during the 2009 America’s Giving Challenge. More than 82,000 individual donors made 105,000 donations to 7,876 causes with an average gift of $17.73. By comparison, during the 2007 America’s Giving Challenge $1,764,710 was raised from almost 72,000 unique donors to 6,418 causes with an average gift of $24.50 overall with the use of the PARADE Magazine site for giving and $17.30 on Facebook. During the first Giving Challenge, the public was able to participate and donate through Causes on Facebook, GlobalGiving and Network for Good. In an attempt to simplify the process, Causes.com was the sole portal for participation and donation for the 2009 America’s Giving Challenge, although a platform upgrade was made that allowed people to donate without having to be a member of Facebook. This change in platform, the economic downturn and the proliferation of online giving efforts all may have played a role in the difference in dollars raised and average gift size between the two challenges. However, there is not a enough data to draw specific conclusions.
Contests have evolved with awards given for a wide variety of criteria, from popular vote and best concept to tournaments and the America’s Giving Challenge format, which rewards cause Champions who raise the largest number of friends. Since the Case Foundation and its partners first pioneered the giving contest concept, nonprofits have made great strides to embrace social media and online fundraising. There are now so many contests that nonprofits need to vet these opportunities to make sure they are in line with their mission and fundraising goals.
The following report encapsulates the main lessons extrapolated from the 2009 America’s Giving Challenge and the data collected to assess the Challenge including a survey of cause champions, four Conversational Case Studies hosted on the Case Foundation’s blog: Darius Goes West: Inspiring Fans to Share Their Stories with Pride and Joy, Students for a Free Tibet: A Mindful Social Media Strategy for Campaigns and Contests, A Special Sauce for Contest Success, and Reflections.
The 2007 America’s Giving Challenge analysis revealed several characteristics of winning campaigns. Those attributes included immersion in the effort, viral communications, the success of smaller and volunteer organizations, a general lack of fundraising experience, and the ability to create campaigns on the fly.
The 2009 contest highlighted new common characteristics for winners. These attributes can be replicated across contests and general nonprofit social media outreach.
Personal Appeals: Personal solicitations to pre-existing networks of donors and friends through multiple channels were rated as the most effective methods for fundraising. Thirty-five percent of contest participants 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 percent rated email to an existing organizational donor base as effective or most effective.
Use of Distributed Networks: Social media enables on and offline grassroots activism, giving nonprofits the ability to coordinate large numbers of people across distributed networks. 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. 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.
Additional assets included:
Philanthropic contests and online media have become a source of fundraising for many small nonprofits. Our analysis revealed that 40 percent of the cause champions were staff people and only a quarter identified as volunteers. This is a shift from the first Challenge where two-thirds of the champions were volunteers. In addition,almost 80 percent of participants had a donation button on their website, and nearly half raised money through Network for Good. Eighty percent were already using Causes on Facebook to raise money prior to the second America’s Giving Challenge. This is evidence of a shift by nonprofit organizations that now see fundraising through their websites or using Facebook and other online channels as a viable and necessary part of their efforts.
Further, nearly 40 percent of the beneficiary organizations were over 10 years old, again a reflection of the increased comfort level that all nonprofit organizations, even those born before the digital revolution, now have with social media. Social media-specific fundraising, while in its infancy, has become a real part of day-to-day nonprofit online fundraising.
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.
The theory of change for the America’s Giving Challenge was to significantly enhance the ability of nonprofit organizations and causes to smartly leverage social media to raise funds and new supporters, which they could then use to help support and sustain their efforts in the future. As the statistics have shown, online fundraising with social media tools has become an accepted practice in 80 percent of all nonprofits.
We believe the efforts of the Case Foundation and its partners as contest pioneers have led to the widespread proliferation of contests and associated best practices. In addition, we also believe the general contest trend has contributed to the industry’s adoption of online fundraising via social media.
As a number of survey respondents mentioned in the open-ended comments that America’s Giving Challenge played a significant leadership role in the prevalence of online giving contests. One respondent said, “Thanks so much for being the innovators of online giving contests. Because of your effort there [are] many more opportunities that rally non profit teams across the country. That's a win.”
But it’s not just a win for the Case Foundation, PARADE and Causes. It’s a testimony to the entire nonprofit sector’s growth in social media adoption and capacity to effectively use these tools to raise money for social change work.
Note: Remember, this report is meant to be reviewed in conjunction with the Conversational Case Studies.