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Social Media Contests a Big Risk for Small Non-Profits?

Lori Halley 22 July 2010 11 comments

A tweet or status update is so easy to publish – and “Please vote” is such a small favor to ask of your social network.

It’s just a quick click, right?

But as Chris Brogan points out, in The Problem with Social Only Nonprofit Campaigns,there’s a cumulative effect of all those social media requests.

By pushing a heavy campaign through something like Twitter to get votes for one’s Facebook, there’s a problem with muddying that particular stream. Everyone thinks “it’s just one tweet,” but they don’t see the other side of all the requests, and/or the companies pushing these types of vote-grabbing campaigns don’t realize the digital littering this kind of method gets.

Yes, yours is a good cause.

Yes, a click to vote takes  – what?  – maybe thirty seconds, tops? 

The first five or ten requests, no problem.


But social media requests for clicks, tweets, votes, etc., in the end, are no different than the various other demands that non-profits make on their supporters. And just as the wise non-profit administrator won’t risk burning out volunteers with too heavy a workload, or alienating long-term donors with ever-escalating appeals, non-profits (and the individuals who support and promote them in social media) need to be aware of the growing risk of “voter fatigue.”

Push it too far – your former fans may start clicking “Unlike” or “Ignore.”

And to what purpose? 

For the winning organization, a lump sum of anywhere from a few thousand dollars to five figures. For those who have just taxed the patience and attention of their social networks to the limit, yet failed to win a prize – nothing. Chris Brogan suggests:

I wish every vote cost $5, and that the $5 went into a pool for the winners. Hell, I wish every tweet requesting votes came with some kind of donation aspect to it. Then we’d raise money on the way to raising money.

The Nonprofiteer’s Kelly Kleiman rang the same alarm bell about social media contest for corporate funding in a strongly worded article, What's Wrong With Chase Community Giving?, at the Huffington Post:

It's called "crowd-source philanthropy," but it's not philanthropy at all: it's "crowd-manipulation marketing." ...

This lazy and manipulative approach to corporate giving also diverts the attention of nonprofits from real fundraising – which involves long-term relationships and commitment to mission – to point-and-click fundraising, which costs "donors" nothing and therefore gives them no stake in the institution.

Barbara Talisman’s take on Nonprofits and Social Media Contests is to question whether it’s worthwhile for  a non-profit to spend time “engaging” volunteers, donors, follower and friends to vote in a popularity contest for a chance at a prize -- instead of “truly engaging on and off social media and raising significant money for their mission on a regular basis AND building a base of support they can cultivate.”

What do you think? 

Is taking part in an online “Vote for Me” contest a cost-effective way for small non-profits to chase the chance of thousands of dollars in corporate funding?

What benefits or drawbacks do you see in the “crowdsource philanthropy” social media campaigns?

Suggestions for further reading:

Cause Marketing that Leads to Real Social Change

Can the Contest Craze Sustain Itself

Nonprofits Find Social Media Present New Challenges


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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 22 July 2010 at 6:00 PM


  • Sandy Rees said:

    Thursday, 22 July 2010 at 10:44 AM

    I love your take on this issue!  I think for many nonprofits, this is a huge waste of time.  They're spending time chasing this contest when they should be cultivating donors.  I wrote a similar post on my blog recently about this. http://getfullyfundedblog.com/win-lose-or-just-a-waste-of-time

    Sandy Rees

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 22 July 2010 at 6:04 PM

    Thanks for sharing your post, Sandy - left you a comment!

  • Sue Anne Reed said:

    Friday, 23 July 2010 at 12:54 AM

    I posted on Chris Brogan's blog that I liked the idea of every vote needing some sort of donation. It's one of the reason why I've liked America's Giving Challenge over the others. Although, their all popularity contests and in some ways I think they do more harm than good for organizations.

    Instead of asking your potential donor to vote for you in a contest, why not find some other way for them to spend their time that actually helps your cause?

  • Geri Stengel said:

    Friday, 23 July 2010 at 6:50 AM

    Social media fundraising and marketing, like all other forms of marketing, should be carefully thought out. Harassing your followers with requests for votes is no different from filling their in-boxes with endless emails. It all becomes unwelcome spam.

    Every contact with stakeholders must be viewed in context: When, how often, and for what purpose. It should be part of a fundraising/marketing plan, emphasis on the word "plan."

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 23 July 2010 at 7:08 AM

    Sue Anne, I'm inclined to agree. America's Giving Challenge has been the most thoughtfully structured and potentially beneficial of the contests we've seen lately, I think, but it may be time for non-profits to give the contest thing a long rest.

    Geri, absolutely! Every contact needs to be seen in context of all your contacts, but also it's necessary to be mindful that your request is likely just one in a growing crowd, so even a single request can end up feeling like spam to the recipient.

    For example, today alone I've received three requests for votes and two requests for donations - and it's not even lunchtime yet! Just imagine the negative reaction to the next request that comes in! Not the fault of the non-profit or its  well-meaning supporter ("it's just one click"), but I do fear that the cumulative effect of all this "mobilizing your network" is going to do some real damage to the reputation of participating non-profits.

  • Robyn McIntyre said:

    Friday, 23 July 2010 at 4:39 PM

    You really gave me something to think about with that quote from Kelly Kleiman calling "crowd-source philanthropy" really "crowd manipulation marketing." You're right that we need to think of the cumulative effects of what we do. I have nothing against motorcycles individually, but when they seem to come by my twisting, winding road every five minutes on a weekend, they can tax my patience AND my hearing. Thank you for giving me another perspective.

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 26 July 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Nice analogy, Robyn! I know exactly what you mean - even though I am a huge fan of all things motorcyle, by the time a pack of Harleys has gone past on a quiet summer afternoon... well, that's plenty of exposure to their distinctive sound for one day!

    The more I think about it, the more it seems clear that "cumulative effect" applies to every kind of communication.

    For example, there's a tendency in social media to feel that our followers must know something because we've mentioned it once or twice, but with so much information coming at us, there's no guarantee that every supporter, no matter how keen, will be on top of what's going on with your organization. With the best will in the world, it's probably not possible!

    So then the challlenge then becomes how to balance "necessary repetition" with the risk of overload... Maybe that's where different channels of communication come in, and different modes of storytelling? So that the message may be the same but it "feels" different to the recipient?

  • Chris Brogan... said:

    Tuesday, 27 July 2010 at 3:36 AM

    I second the gratitude for pointing out "crowd manipulation marketing." That's *exactly* how it feels to me. Add to that my own personal guilt feeling for wanting to help every charity with the range of my voice, and you've got the experience pegged.

    Thanks for the post and thanks for carrying the story out further.

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 27 July 2010 at 5:05 AM

    Thanks to you for starting the train, Chris, and for stopping by to comment.  Also for bringing up another good point -

    When nonprofits make too many demands on supporters, "personal guilt" is an inevitable result.

    And that's no basis for a sustainable relationship!

    If we make our fans feel guilt-ridden, inadequate, helpless, frustrated, etc...  by demanding their time and attention (and open wallets) too often, why would they stick around to collect more of those negative feelings?

  • Estrella Rosenberg said:

    Tuesday, 27 July 2010 at 5:53 AM

    I have to take a little break from my summer sabbatical to pop in and say how happy I am to see you and so many other people writing about this lately.

    I have my own non-profits and I'm not at all a fan of these kinds of contests. As so many others have pointed out they exhaust your donor base with no guarantee of any return. To me this breaks every rule of donor cultivation 101. Donors, supporters and volunteers want to know that what they're doing, whether it's donating time, money or their voice is somehow effecting change.

    I've never had any of my non-profits in a giving contest but I do use social media campaigns for my causes. I do it in more directed ways that are a much better use of our limited resources and that have specific impact....for example, with our campaign for Big Love Little Hearts - #100X100 - we asked people to use the hashtag #100X100 all day long on a specific day and we received (guaranteed) $1 per use. Each time we raised enough to fund a surgery for a child we posted their picture so our donors could see their impact. We reiterated the campaign 10 days later, this time asking our supporters to phone or email their legislators and ask them to fund specific legislation...an ask that had impact our donors could connect to. They knew their time was making a difference.

    Donors want communication, but they don't want too much and contests like Chase Giving run the risk of having them skip over more important communications...like how their money is changing lives or for more substantial appeals.

    Thanks for adding to the growing body of great posts on the downside of contests like these, especially for smaller non-profits with limited resources who already rely heavily on volunteers.

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

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 27 July 2010 at 6:13 AM

    Estrella, so good of you to come out of sabbatical to add to this important discussion!

    Yes, the dollars-for-hashtag use model is a much more sensible one than the corporate contest, I think - raises funds directly, and raises awareness at the same time. Most importantly, it's closer to what crowd-sourced philanthropy should/could be: tiny contributions (what's one click?) from many people to produce a significant (guaranteed) result. I do think Haagen-Dazs has a great model in http://HelpTheHoneyBees.com of how corporate sponsors can get on board in a way that doesn't risk adding to charity fatigue.

    By the way, small nonprofits could beenfit from taking a close look at what you've been doing with Big Love Little Hearts, Estrella: the geo-cache campaign http://adventuresinphilanthropy.com/2010/06/19/bang-for-your-brandraising-buck/ makes for an instructive case study!

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