Less than two hours ago, Chase Community Giving made the much anticipated unofficial post on its wall announcing the lucky winner of $1 million dollars and five finalists each receiving $100,000 on its contest Fan Page.
This contest was the culmination of a two-part "vote for me" cause marketing strategy that started in November and has been rife with controversy. In some ways, it comes as no surprise that the race to the finish line ended with more allegations of dubious behavior by contest participants and those watching them compete. It's left some nonprofit professionals wondering whether these types of contests are a good idea.
In the contest's last few hours, many newly created profiles voted for The Isha Foundation, some of them with dubious-looking names, including Gdfg Kcjbvkljvb and Sdfj Dfsjlfkddjf. Several other profiles with more realistic names voted for Isha, though these accounts have had few if any friends or activity prior to voting.Though many of the profiles supporting The Isha Foundation appear to be new with little to no activity, it's unclear if that is a violation of the terms and conditions of participating in the contest.
Invisible Children has also been accused of fraud during the duration of the contest. Change.org reported on January 19 that many users who had not voted for Invisible Children had been tagged in a photo with an image reading "I Voted For Invisible Children," making it appear as though that user had voted for the group.
Voting for the Chase Community Giving contest ended at midnight on January 23, with an official announcement of the winner coming on Monday, January 26. It is unknown whether Chase and Facebook will be verifying the legitimacy of vote counts after the contest has ended.
I'm not surprised. The contest was tainted during the first round when several nonprofits that had placed in the top 100 were disqualified without reason amidst criticisms about the contest design. This happened right before the holidays in December and an article by Stephanie Strom in the New York Times reported:
JPMorgan Chase & Company is coming under fire for the way it conducted an online contest to award millions of dollars to 100 charities.
At least three nonprofit groups — Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All— say they believe that Chase disqualified them over concerns about associating its name with their missions.
The groups say that until Chase made changes to the contest, they appeared to be among the top 100 vote-getters.
Dubbed the Chase Bank's Online Contest Fail and a firestorm of criticism followed. The disqualified groups organized a boycott of Chase and probably would have ignited an angry crowd if not a matter of timing. The events happened right before Christmas when everyone distracted by holiday celebrations. Chase Bank did not apparently make any formal, public concessions to the disqualified groups and the nonprofits decided to move on.
All week, I watched the organizations competing in the Chase Community Giving Contest go up and down the leaderboard amid accusations of dubious behavior and tactics by those participating in the contest.
I think the more important question is the debate as to whether these "vote for me" contests are beneficial to nonprofits and social change. I don't think contests should be banned entirely, they just need to be better designed:
1.) Contest Design Should Not Promote Scarcity Thinking: Scarcity thinking assumes no growth and heightened competition. Contests that are designed to select winners based on popular votes only and huge dollar amounts inspire scarcity thinking. Much like throwing some fish food into a pond filled with starving Koi fish:
Scarcity thinking also inspires less than honest tactics. It doesn't promote thoughtfulness or field wide learning.
Further, for organizations that are pestering their supporters and friends to "vote for me" has the potential of eroding the hard earned social capital. It does not promote the good kind of relationship building that can really sustain an organization in the long run. It promotes transactional relationships.
2. The Role of Experts: There is a role for expert opinion in crowdsourcing projects to make them more effective.
Some contests, for example the Knight News Challenge and Case Foundation Make It Your Own, have handled this need for expertise by having a two-tiered process. The crowd identifies the top contenders, not the winners and a panel of experts selects the winners. The Brooklyn Museum of Art's Click Exhibition used two crowds - a general crowd and a crowd of curators (Allison Fine and I profiled this project in the chapter on crowdsourcing in our forthcoming book, The Networked Nonprofit)
3. A Balance of Social Good and Marketing: Can throwing a lot of money out there for nonprofits to beg for really solve social problems or make the world a better place? There needs to be a balance of social good and cause marketing or else it might come off as "cause washing." We know that corporate greed is being replaced by generosity and we know there is potential synergy between financial performance and attention to community and social needs. But it can't be a pure marketing strategy - there needs to be some theory of change.
The above diagram describes the theory of change for Prizes from a recent report by McKinsey This type of thinking needs to go hand in hand with marketing strategies to ensure an effective design.
What are the best ways that cause-related marketing campaigns can truly have a social impact?