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Best Practices for Contest Campaigns: AGC Lessons Learned

Lori Halley 21 July 2010 2 comments

AGC-report Remember the launch of the second America’s Giving Challenge, late in 2009? Organized by the Case Foundation, Facebook Causes and PARADE Publications, the competition aimed to raise both awareness and funds for charitable causes by mobilizing your non-profit’s network of supporters.

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine of Zoetica, along with Geoff Livingston, carried out a detailed evaluation of the competition, and the results have been released in the “must-read” 2009 AGC Assessment and Reflection Report.

Here are a few key highlights:

  • More than 82,000 individual donors made 105,000 donations to nearly 8,000 causes with an average gift of $17.73
  • A demonstrated shift in the adoption of social media by nonprofit organizations themselves:  in the 2007-2008 Giving Challenge, a significant number of cause champions were volunteers; and in the 2009 Challenge, 40% of champions were staff of the competing nonprofit (only 25% identified as volunteers).
  • Personal connections, compelling use of videos and storytelling, and repeatedly thanking donors for gaining support for causes proved to be important elements for success in the challenge.
  • A review of the evolution of online contests, and recommendations to organizations for vetting them, given the significant rise in these types of competitions since the 2007-2008 Giving Challenge (and the risk of donor fatigue).

If America’s Giving Challenge is new on your radar, see also “Sharing lessons from America's Giving Challenge: A different approach” by CEO Jean Case on the Case Foundation blog for a quick overview of the project and the results.

This “different approach” shared the findings through a series of “conversation case studies” and “encouraged the public to weigh in via comments to the blog posts, live CaseSoup video discussions, and Twitter” to continue the discussion and flow of ideas.

In one CaseSoup video, for example, Allison Fine, Beth Kanter, and Scott Beale discuss their research on America's Giving Challenge, including what social media and fundraising strategies worked. Total running time for this recorded video is just over 55 minutes, but it’s loaded with information that any non-profit can put to good use right away.

The Special Sauce for Winning Online Challenges


Non-Profit Contest Campaigns Best Practices

As the researchers explain, their analysis of both the first America’s Giving Challenge, in 2007-2008, and the 2009 competition revealed some common characteristics of successful campaigns, including “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.” A few new winning attributes for the best practices list came out of the 2009 contest, too, reflecting in large part the growing impact of social media:

  • Personal appeals to pre-existing networks of friends, family and colleagues, and existing donors; and
  • Use of distributed networks / social media to coordinate on- and offline “grassroots” activism.

Additional assets included:

  • Thankfulness: Many of the winners cited the importance of thanking donors profusely throughout the contest.
  • Transparency: Creating public spaces to share information about who is doing what is also a very effective strategy.
  • Videos: Most of the 2009 winners, including Conversational Case Study subject Darius Goes West, made good use of videos to chronicle their efforts. 
  • Storytelling: The ability to tell stories to compel people to act in short, funny and meaningful ways was an essential element of success.
  • Calls to Action: From YouTube’s annotations program to requests to tell five additional friends, strong campaigns included great calls-to-action, blending social stories with hard marketing.

This is just a sample of the useful insights you’ll find in the full report (available here). The best part? Lessons learned from America’s Giving Challenge can be replicated by other non-profits, of any size, both for contest campaigns and for social media outreach in general.

What ideas gleaned from America’s Giving Challenge will your own non-profit put to good use?

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 21 July 2010 at 3:42 PM


  • Beth Kanter said:

    Saturday, 07 August 2010 at 9:43 AM

    Very belated thank you for summarizing and sharing the report!

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Sunday, 08 August 2010 at 6:57 PM

    You're more than welcome, Beth: a heap of interesting material there for nonprofits to absorb and digest.

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