Note from Beth: There has been a variety of criticism of contests. Nonprofit consultant Hildy Gottlieb has been a vocal skeptic and is deeply philosophically opposed to online contests as a method of change in the social sector. Her main objection to "vote me contests" is that it pits one amazing cause against another, perpetuating the scarcity mentality that lives in the hope of a pot of gold. She also feels that contests have too much of a myopic focus on channeling dollars or click actions rather than engaging people's hearts and minds and souls.
Earlier this month, I sent out a few tweets asking for the counterpoint to Hildy's view. Jared Paul, the co-founder of a new nonprofit that has a focus on homeless youth and one of the winners of the $25,000 in the first phase of Chase's Giving Community Contest offered to share his thoughts. While as of this writing, his organization is in the bottom 25% of the leaderboard he shares a few points below about why contests like this can be helpful for small, new nonprofits.
In addition, Andy Amsler, a volunteer for another organization in the bottom 30% of the leaderboard as of this writing, left this comment on a blog post about the value of the contest for their organization.
Now that social media has normalized, can contests like this be a level playing field where organizations with hundreds and thousands of fans and much larger budgets compete along side those smaller organizations? Nathaniel Whittemore pointed out some further problems with dubious strategies that as he says turns these contests into a farce.
Does these contests really help build capacity of nonprofits and bring innovative solutions for social to the forefront or not? What do you think?
Guest Post by Jared Paul, A Good Idea
My name is Jared Paul and I’m the founder of a one and a half year old, San Francisco nonprofit called A Good Idea (AGI) that recently made the top 100 in the Chase Community Giving contest. AGI is a vehicle for positive social change ideas that connect people in need with people who want to help. Our largest “good idea” to date will be a fully accredited residential high school for homeless teens in San Francisco, which we will look to replicate in other cities across the country.
As a fairly new nonprofit, this online contest gave us the ability to gain exposure and compete with some more established organizations. The best part was that we won $25,000 and more if we do well in the second phase of the contest (up to $1 million!). Not bad for three weeks work, especially considering that we recently netted $10,000 for 3 MONTHS of planning a fundraiser!
To control spam, Facebook makes it impossible to email more than 20 people at a time, so to email your friend list, you must break your list down into groups of 20. Emailing my list of over 4,000 friends took me a few hours and I helped 40-50 friends through this process, quite time consuming. Chase also created an “activity” page where you could see who was voting for which nonprofit. Everyone had 20 votes to use (and you could only vote once per nonprofit) so people were usually left with 19 extra votes. I began emailing people after they voted, asking them to consider using one of their votes for AGI. While my Thanksgiving wasn’t much of a holiday as I had a laptop on my lap at all times, it was well worth it.
People in New Jersey, Nebraska, and New York who were learning about A Good Idea were emailing me asking how they could start a chapter in their hometown and asking their friends to vote. We started receiving unsolicited donations from people who cried after watching the video on our website and felt the urge to donate money to us. In summary for Round 1, we had our friends vote, we had our friends ask their friends to vote, and we asked total strangers to vote…and it worked!
For Round 2 we came up with a more elaborate marketing strategy including partnering with four other Bay Area nonprofits to support each other, voting parties, the attempt to get celebrities tweeting about us, getting local high schools on board, and much more. So far it hasn’t proven to be enough as we are far behind in the standings, but don’t count us out yet as we’ve got a few tricks still up our sleeves! All in all this process has been an unbelievably strenuous but rewarding process that has left me feeling an enormous amount of gratitude for the opportunity that Chase and Facebook. Thanks for reading and of course, you can vote for us.
Updated: Andy Amsler expanded on his blog comment about why these contests are good for small organizations. You can read more here.