Competition Drives Online and Social Media Action

Earlier this week, about 120 million Americans took part in what boils to down to the country’s biggest competition – an election. This Saturday and Sunday – and every weekend through the beginning of February – about another hundred million+ people will at least passively observe any one of several dozen fierce competitions on football fields across the nation. Combine the two, and you have a roughly $10 BILLION industry all built around one thing – (hopefully) friendly competition.

It’s clear competition drives behavior in America and across the globe (from what I understand, soccer is kind of a big deal around the world). We’re human, therefore we like to compete. So doesn’t it make sense to add a little competition to your fundraising strategy to drive giving activity? The following are two examples – one from healthcare, one from higher education – where competition was cleverly used to accomplish fundraising and/or membership goals.

‘Tis the Season for Online Gaming

In late fall 2010, the University of California, San Francisco was looking to raise awareness about fundraising for their new Benioff Children’s Hospital. The objective was donors, not necessarily dollars, so a mini campaign was launched with a goal of raising $100,000. To participate, supporters of the new children’s hospital were encouraged to set up online teams. The rules were simple – which ever team had the most donors won the competition and the right to name a wing of the hospital.

As it turns out, $100,000 is a bit low if you’re running a fun online competition, just outside of Silicon Valley, during the holidays. After the short (roughly one-month) campaign wrapped up, the teams who took part in the UCSF Challenge for the Children raised more than $1 million through roughly 165,000 donors. The winner? Online gaming development company Zynga, the firm behind Facebook’s popular “Farmville” application raised more than $800,000 through roughly 162,000 donors. In Farmville, game players build their own virtual farms with virtual animals, plants, barns, and whatever else you might find on a real farm. For the Challenge for the Children, Zynga sold virtual candy cane seeds which could be grown on the players’ Farmville plots. Proceeds from each candy cane were given to the Challenge for the Children, making each gamer who bought a candy cane a donor.

The Challenge for the Children also drew celebrity support, but the second place finisher was 12-year-old boy and cancer survivor named Paddy O’Brien. Paddy brought in roughly $12,000 through 425 donors. When asked how he did it, Paddy said it was simple: he asked his friends to support his team and had those friends ask their friends to do the same. Paddy was an online ambassador for the Benioff campaign. And online ambassadors are a group your nonprofit needs to have a program built around if you’re planning on raising money online. (For more on how to use online ambassadors to boost your Facebook presence, check out this earlier post.)

For a great, recent example of using competition to boost your organization’s social media activity, I present you The Alumpics.

The Alumpics was a competition between the alumni associations of seven of the ten Ivy+ schools. It ran during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Instead of tests of physical prowess, the Alumpics tested the social media mettle of these organizations. Each day, the organizations would post an alumni-related photo on Facebook. The photo with the most likes that day won gold, second-most silver, and third most took home the bronze. At the end of the Alumpics, the org with the most golds won the contest.

While this didn’t have a direct fundraising tie, it did create a lot of buzz around the participating schools’ Facebook pages. In total, 70 photos received 32,532 “likes.”

“So what?” you might be asking. Well, here’s why 32,532 Facebook “likes” is a big deal. According to the 2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report, the value of a Facebook fan who “likes” a  nonprofit’s page is $214.81/year. That bears repeating – every Facebook “like” or fan of your organization’s page is worth $214.81 per year if you follow up with that fan. So those 32,000+ likes are potentially worth just under $7 million for the institutions that participated in the Alumpics.

Online competition can work to drive fundraising, but it’s not as simple as just putting a scoreboard on your website and hoping people will get in the game. The following are a few tips to help your online fundraising competitions boost giving and interest in your organization’s mission.

Connect with the zietgeist: What societal movement has everybody talking? What’s happening in pop culture? Is the Final Four coming up? Does your institution have a big anniversary on the horizon? Is it the holiday season? Connect your competition with a well-known and heavily participated-in event to leverage the buzz that already exists around that event.

Make it easy to participate: Ease-of-use should be a serious consideration for all your online giving activity, but it’s especially important if you’re trying to lure new donors to your cause. For online giving forms, only require information that is absolutely necessary. For returning donors, enable one-click giving with the information they’ve already provided. And…

Make your contest mobile platform friendly: Several studies show that the primary method of checking email is now on a mobile device. A large number of your supporters will share a link to your online competition via email, which is just one of many reasons why you should considering optimizing your online giving process for mobile platforms.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

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