- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
The Online (and Offline) Tools and Assistance
Given its roots in building online community, as well as its desire to ensure applicants continued their efforts (even if they did not become grant winners), the Case Foundation created a number of venues for using technology as a way to make the process as fair and supportive to grant applicants as possible.
To that end, the Foundation provided all applicants with extensive information and resources about citizen-centered engagement on its website. It also shared online trainings and online interactive marketing and fundraising tools such as widgets that could be distributed on Facebook, MySpace, blogs or other online venues.
Every applicant received a customized webpage and widget, pre-populated with their application information, and hosted on the ChipIn website. The Top 100 also received $100 to kickstart an online fundraising campaign, in addition to a profile on the Foundation’s web site that featured project photos, diaries, videos, a fundraising widget, and other information about the applicant. Each Top 100 applicant also received grant writing advice and support from a proposal coach, drawn from an external group of philanthropy and nonprofit experts who gave feedback on crafting their full proposal.
In the final stage, the Top 20’s widgets were automatically turned into voting banners, allowing people to vote in just a few clicks. Beyond technology, all Top 20 finalists received personal support from outreach ambassadors who advised applicants on how to network, mobilize supporters, and talk to the media. The Foundation also provided candidate kits—customized mini-marketing plans with press releases, flyers, and more.
To promote and market the Top 20 ideas and attract voters, the Case Foundation gathered a strong group of partners, each with the ability to introduce the Make It Your Own Awards and citizen-centered engagement to a wide and active audience. These included Bebo, MTV Think, GOOD Magazine, Ning, Black Planet, Mi Gente, Asian Avenue, and YouthNoise.
In addition, nearly 200 other organizations joined the Foundation by inviting their members and users to vote for the project they believed presented the strongest case for bringing people together to take responsibility and address the needs of their communities.
Finally, as a means of encouraging voters to read and research the Top 20 finalists, the first ten people who voted correctly for the four projects that the online voting community eventually selected as the Final Four, received a $2,500 Good Card. Good Cards, sponsored by the Case Foundation and administered through Network for Good, allow recipients to use the dollar amount on the card toward a donation to a U.S.-based charity of their choice. In total, 89 people correctly picked all four of the final grantees.
What Were The Benefits And Challenges Of The Online Tools That MIYO Provided?
By and large, the entire MIYO process occurred online. Applicants submitted their citizen-centered projects online. They mobilized their communities online. The Top 100 interacted with supporters through the profile for their project on the Case Foundation website, and the Top 20 recruited votes online.
When the MIYO Awards commenced in June 2007, online tools such as fundraising widgets, social networks, and online voting programs were relatively new. The popular Facebook application Causes, for example, had only been in existence for about two months, and although individuals were joining Causes, they were not making contributions in large numbers. This led some early observers to suggest online fundraising using new tools was a fad.
Online voting programs in the community sector were also in their infancy, with the first occurring during the prior eight months, including a widget fundraising contest sponsored by Network for Good and Yahoo! in December 2006.
Despite the newness of this technology—particularly, its application to fundraising for social causes or projects—MIYO applicants appeared to welcome the invitation to innovate, experiment, and learn. Their experience with the online tools the Case Foundation provided as part of the grantmaking process, as well as tools they discovered on their own, provides valuable knowledge about how to use fundraising and online voting initiatives in ways that help the entire nonprofit sector more broadly.
Major findings in this area were:
- The MIYO process introduced relatively cutting-edge fundraising and marketing tools at a time when most citizen-centered projects were still struggling to master the basics of traditional online engagement. Since the Foundation was not able to fund all the projects, it gave all 4,641 applicants widgets to use as advertising banners on websites that could, in turn, help applicants raise awareness and funds for their project. Each of the 100 semi-finalists also received $100 to jumpstart their online fundraising efforts. The fundraising widgets were interesting at the time because they offered users an interactive “Donate Now” button that could reside on their web pages and, at the same time, present the opportunity to raise money in a new way for their cause. Given the newness of this technology, it was hoped that applicants would serve as first adopters in showing how “citizen philanthropy” could be successful. Most, however, were still struggling to learn how to be more proficient at using technology for more basic outreach purposes such as websites and email.
- Only 33 of the Top 100 finalist received a donation beyond the $100 the Foundation provided. The most amount of the money raised from a widget provided by the Foundation to the Top 100 applicants was $1,219 from 23 donors—well below the $10,000 that each of the Top 20 projects received from the Foundation—indicating that a “new wave of citizen philanthropy” had yet to materialize. As one interviewee observed, “We have found that the majority of people who are interested in donating would rather send a check. We put the fundraising widget in all of the places suggested, and nobody used it.”
The low success rate of the fundraising widgets also suggests that MIYO applicants may have lacked the time and energy to manage a full-fledged personal fundraising campaign and/or were not provided with best incentives to experiment more extensively with the tool. If the MIYO process were launched today—a time in which social networks have become more essential to individuals and organizations—these results may be different, given that applicants would be more likely to have networks in place and “ready to respond” when they posted a widget and/or fundraising appeal.
- Seven of the 20 MIYO winners and 94 of the 457 non-winners who responded to the survey indicated the fundraising widget and other online tools provided by the Case Foundation were somewhat or very helpful in ways other than raising funds. Although the Case Foundation did not provide online tools for project management (e.g., recruiting volunteers, discussions, etc.), many MIYO applicants used online tools of their own choosing for these tasks. As one interviewee said, “I thought the [widget] was amazing. I had no idea it existed, but loved the concept.” The same interviewee noted later, “Although we didn’t use the online tools for raising significant amounts of money, we were able to use it for project management and volunteer recruitment.” Many MIYO applicants implemented online tools of their own choosing to help manage their projects. Survey respondents frequently cited tools such as Survey Monkey, Basecamp, Highrise, Constant Contact, MySpace, Google groups, and other volunteer recruitment sites as invaluable online tools.
- Email and simple web pages were the most effective and used methods for applicants and winners to engage with their supporters. As one interviewee noted, email is still “the killer application” for civic engagement, and she was not alone. Many applicants indicated that websites and emails were the primary ways in which they communicated with people in their communities and with participants in their projects.
- Survey respondents and interviewees consistently indicated they did not have enough time to make the most of the online tools at their disposal. In fact, only 1 of 477 survey respondents noted that technology saved her time.
More typical was this observation from an interviewee: “We manage so much of our life online these days, so this makes us ‘more savvy.’ But we have to fit so many tasks into our ‘online time.’ Online technology almost competes with itself to find a place in our schedule.” The lack of time to experiment with online tools may have factored into the low success rate of the fundraising widget, as well as to the general frustration that surfaced in response to survey questions relating to online tools.
- Since 2007 and 2008, however, the majority of citizen-centered projects represented in the MIYO Awards have used the Internet to advance their projects. Although this is still largely through the use of emails and webpages as indicated above, nearly three-quarters of survey respondents indicated that they had used technology to communicate with their supporters. More than half reported using the Internet to recruit and coordinate volunteers and to facilitate discussions, and 38 percent of applicants have used the Internet to raise money since the MIYO Awards.