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Contests Help Nonprofits Get Buzz and Build Community

Lori Halley 14 October 2008 0 comments

For nonprofits, a well-run contest is often enough to raise a significant amount of money in ticket sales, entry fees and straight-forward donations  But what about those contests that don’t have an entry fee or other fundraising tool connected with them? What does the organization gain from the trouble and expense of putting on such an event?

  • Attention.
  • Engagement.
  • Powerful word-of-mouth publicity for your organization and your cause.

Contests are staples in the nonprofit marketing toolbox for very good reason. There’s a basic human urge to compete, to test our skills and take a chance to win — even if the “prize” is no more tangible than a public nod to the accomplishment, a ribbon or a photograph in the local newspaper.

contest website Add the good feeling of supporting a good cause, and — done right — contests can go a long way to building a loyal community of support.

Bill Carmody makes the point well in his self-published book, Online Promotions: Winning Strategies and Tactics. He’s talking about brand-building contests in the business world, here, but it applies equally for nonprofits:

Contests are more expensive, take longer to create and administer, and elicit a much lower response than sweepstakes. So why run a contest at all? Because, when done correctly, contests get inside the minds of your consumers in ways that sweepstakes cannot. …
Contests get consumers to think, to play, to participate, and to create. They demand much more involvement than sweepstakes.

Whether running an contest through your website is any less work or expense than running one in the “real world” is an open question, but Lorna Doone Brewer (Nonprofit Technology News) suggests that nonprofits should at least consider an online contest as a tool for community building:

Consider running a fun contest on your organization’s blog or web site to increase traffic, community, and buy-in from donors and volunteers…
There are, of course, numerous ways to get people to visit your site, but this idea is a really fun one. Not only will they be logging in to enter the contest and logging in again to see other people’s entries, but they’ll also be smiling when they do so. Who doesn’t want their web site’s readers to feel great?

Thinking of nonprofit contests that get it right — that draw in supporters with an appeal to their creativity, and wrap the message in a smile — I’m reminded of the Humane Society’s lolSeals contest (we talked about it back in March, you might recall).

And right now, Oxfam International is in the middle of a clever cross-media contest to find a new slogan for their Be HumanKind campaign, where 14 winning slogans, collected through the organization’s interactive website, are posted daily on huge digital billboards all over central London.

“For me the real issue here is not about the slogans but about the process,” says FreshNetworks’ Matt Rhodes:

The real purpose of this campaign is to find new ways of engaging new people in the  brand and, in Oxfam’s case, the issue. The use of social media in this way will generate a lot of word-of-mouth as people talk about it online and offline (an example of which being this post). People will be prompted to find out more about Oxfam and about the Be Humankind campaign long before the slogans appear on those billboards across London.

Sure, your own group’s budget might not run to a contest on the grand Oxfam scale — but the idea holds across the sector, regardless of the organzation's size. A contest has the potential to engage your supporters in new ways, and gives them one more motivation to spread your nonprofit's message.

Think of it as the difference between a teacher who stands at the blackboard to lecture, and one who engages the class with creative projects and group discussions — I know which class I'd want to sign up for!  How about you?

Spotted any interesting nonprofit contests lately? I'd love to know what you think of the contests you've seen — what grabs you, what draws you in to learn more, or what might have been done differently. Has your own organization launched a contest, either in your community or through your website? 


Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 14 October 2008 at 6:17 PM
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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