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« Flying the Nerd Bird or How I Found Value in FourSquare | Main | Reflections on the Social Media Lab Workshop »

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Paul Jones

What I dislike about them is when they pit charity against charity, which I think is counterproductive to the sector.

ADSLA

I think the contests are fine. Pepsi's commercial is a little too dumb, but it is refreshing to use some of their ad budget to improve the world and if they just pick the most popular cause supported by online Pepsi drinkers, so what? It gives regular people a way to fund something they want to support and Pespi a way of knowing what causes their consumers support and and insight into their psychographics and motivations. Chill.

NolandHoshino

I'm with Team Chris (Noble).

Social good contests are good for spreading cause awareness and showcasing the creative minds and ingenuity of smaller nonprofit organizations.

We too have participated and benefited from a social good contest, NameYourCause, along with Meaghan Edelstein's SpiritJump and eight other nonprofit organizations. The NameYourCause contest was a Click-to-vote competition. We used the contest as an opportunity to educate and inform our family and friends about our volunteer work with the organization and why it was important to win. It wasn't about us, but about the cause and the organization and the chance to learn more about social media to further our message (the prize was a pass to BlogWorld in Las Vegas).

Social good contests are good for smaller nonprofits because they don't have the resources or manpower to gain the recognition they deserve. Smaller nonprofits are run by passionate people, just like the larger ones, who work tirelessly for donations. The social good contests is a way for these smaller nonprofits to be noticed and show the world what they are made of with their creative spirit, originality, and initiatives.

Understandably, people are skeptical with corporate sponsored contests. We never know who wins, how the individual or organization did it, and what happens afterward. Example, the Publisher Clearing House contests. Who really wins PCH contests? Is it for real? Did Ed McMahon really go to the winner's house? Without rules, oversight, transparency, and authenticity, we never know.

The NameYourCause contest, run by Chris Noble's CauseMedia Group, was done ethically, efficiently, and with great oversight (in my mind). They checked the votes periodically and threw out duplicate votes. Not only were they policing the contest but those who participated were doing the same. If something looked out-of-sorts I sent them a direct message to check on suspicious votes and they immediately corrected the situation. Thus, it became "our contest" rather than a corporate contest.

Like social media, social good contests are evolving. We have learned from the oversights of previous contests and continue to fool-proof and improve future contests. The responsible party hosting the competition shouldn't be blamed solely. Their intent is for a good cause. It's the recipients who are entering these contests are gaming the system.

Personally, the best benefit we got out of the social good contest NameYourCause was meeting all the other nonprofit winners of the contest. The people behind the organizations are passionate, dedicated individuals who work diligently for their causes. While at Blogworld, we shared our social media experiences, processes, and successes. Learning from each organization was priceless. The NameYourContest brought us to Las Vegas, but the support and love for each other continues on.

Keep social good contests.

Noland Hoshino

Jon Brooks

Here's a relatively small tweak: charity supporters 'vote' by making a donation.

Every charity receives income for their time invested. People who 'vote' many times have to give each time they 'vote', so again the charities win.

Rather than PespiCo then giving one 'winner' their full $250k, they match ("double") every donation - so the public really have a say in where PepsiCo's money is donated.

theBigGive.org.uk ran a '£1m challenge fund' in the UK in Dec 2008: £1m was donated by the public (and doubled by the fund) in just 45 minutes. 250 charities were quick enough to get their supporters to give.

In 2009 we raised £8.5m in a week - 58% of charities received larger donations from their supporters than usual, and 68% received gifts from first-time donors.

Jon Brooks
theBigGive.org.uk

Lars Hasselblad Torres

This draws on a discussion I posted elsewhere.
---
In a nutshell, in an otherwise well designed competition on many levels, Pepsi had a very, very dumb rule: to perform optimally in the competition, your constituents had to return daily to re-cast their vote for your project.

Now, in an information ecology where there was valued content that a) changed and b) you wanted to "hook" new consumers on, I could see that value. Possibly.

In the case of Pepsi refresh, the repeat voting served no valuable purpose I could discern. In fact, I'd love to see the interaction curve: I'm guessing there was quite a fall-off in participation among repeat users.

Anyway, I'm guessing there were at least two undesirable outcomes with this model:
- Voter fatigue
- Process confusion

To your point about cheating, as I said I disagree. But by establishing this silly "come back everyday now to vote y'hear?" process, Pepsi created an incentive to game the system. Who the hominy wants to force their constituents to go to some narrowly focused site every day just to vote? Ask them to do it once, and leverage that loyalty, I say. Remove the transaction barrier. Since the rules made no stipulation against this, and I don't see a moral case to call it cheating, I give Riverbend points for thinking creatively to solve a problem Pepsi created.

I'm sure Pepsi will learn from these mistakes. The challenge will be to see whether this contest is going to be sustainable. It won't if it:
- Does not make better use of social tools
- Reduce the transaction costs to vote effectively, efficiently
- Promote outcomes and champion stories eg draw on its winners for stories

Graham Marsden

Wow, what an important observation about the Alton groups. My organization is currently sitting precariously in tenth place in the $50K category - just good enough to win.
( http://www.refresheverything.com/nvfs )

In our category, there are two Alton groups ahead of NVFS in the rankings. One of the submissions, simply called "D", has a submission with fewer features than most, and must be benefiting greatly from being lumped in to a larger, automated voting bloc. Sadly, according to one Pepsi phone rep, if a winner is found to be ineligible for the grant, the money is not redirected to the next closest applicant. Instead, if for some reason the Alton groups are found in violation, it looks like Pepsi would only be awarding 8 $50K grants this month. Those groups who finish 11th and 12th would not receive funding, even if they were in those positions due to voter manipulation.

This doesn't mean that the Alton groups don't have good ideas, or even that their ideas aren't popular. They've apparently done what they think is within the rules in order to maximize the local impact.

As to the overall value of the competition, though, I must say that this has been a good thing for my org. Since the contest began in February, we've grown our Facebook fans by nearly 200%. We're a pretty well known org in our region, but a small player in a competition where organizations with national appeal and recognition can compete.

Last month, we slipped out of the top ten ideas near the end of the contest, and we had our suspicions as to how that had occurred. This month, we're again precariously perched in the competition. We've used all the traditional and new channels we could think of to get the message out to more people.

If we are able to win, we have hundreds of new supporters to thank who had never interacted with us digitally before. We will also benefit by having new audiences who are in the habit of receiving action-oriented messaging from us on Facebook and/or Twitter. Before this contest, we didn't even have a YouTube channel. We're looking forward to ending this particular ask and moving on to less frequent, but more direct appeals as soon as we can.

Pepsi does deserve a lot of credit for working to make this type of contest a real win/win. But, with a few more tweaks to the way it's set up, it could be perceived as more fair and have even more tangible benefits. (How about voting by text-message, or being able to revise your project proposal when it rolls over automatically into another month?)

Lars Hasselblad Torres

To build on some of these points, I do think Pepsi had a very, very unhelpful rule: to perform optimally in the competition, one's constituents had to return daily to re-cast their vote for their favored project(s).

In an information ecology where there was valued content that a) changed and b) you wanted to "hook" new consumers on, I could see that value. Possibly.

In the case of Pepsi Refresh, the repeat voting served no valuable purpose I could discern. In fact, I'd love to see the interaction curve: I'm guessing there was quite a fall-off in participation among repeat users. Would this kind of data be available to those of us who study online competitions?

Anyway, I'm guessing there were at least two undesirable outcomes with this voting model:
- Voter fatigue
- Process confusion

I'm not sure "cheating," "gaming" or otherwise creatively working around this rule was undesirable.

By establishing the silly "come back everyday now to vote y'all" process, Pepsi actually created an incentive to game the system. Who the wants to force their constituents to go to a third-party site every day to vote *again*? A better route is to ask them to vote once, and leverage that loyalty. Lower the transaction barriers.

Since the rules made no stipulation against this kind of automated play, and I don't see a moral case to call it cheating, I give Riverbend points for thinking creatively to solve a problem Pepsi created.

Steve Delfin

What's missing in this discussion is the need for more sustainable fundraising strategies for charities. Should these cause-related events be nixed? No. But understand them for what they are -- promotional strategies that, by definition, are short-term. Increasingly charities are losing their sources for unrestricted, keep-the-lights on funds. Donors are seeking impact but doing so with restricted gifts. Charities are having to respond to the market and, therefore, promoting more designated/restricted giving. My organization, America's Charities, works to help our member charities raise unrestricted dollars through workplace employee giving. Since United Ways have (a) been hit by scandals, and (b) stopped focusing on promoting workplact giving, the number of givers has shrunk. Yet, employee payroll giving continues to prove to be both resilient in tough economic times, and a sustainable source or annual, reoccuring giving for charities. There are ways to conduct productive, employee-friendly workplace giving without the pressure that traditional accompanies UW campaigns, and with choice for the donor. Steve Delfin, President & CEO, America's Charities (sdelfin@charities.org).

Bonin Bough

Everyone, thanks so much for your comments on the program.


This particular situation has illuminated a need to be clearer in our guidelines about the use of proxy voting. Proxy voting violates the true spirit of the Pepsi Refresh Project and we do not condone it. We are working to clarify this issue within the guidelines to prevent any future occurrences.

We regularly monitor voting for the Pepsi Refresh Project to determine that no program guidelines have been broken. After Beth brought this to our attention, we expanded our audit of the voting process to ensure the integrity of the entire program. We are continuing to look into this, but to our knowledge up to this point, the people supporting The RiverBender Community Center idea are not using an automated system to cast votes.

We have partnered with an outside organization to help administer the program and help detect irregularities and fraud. We have previously caught several bots in the course of the project and have immediately shut them down each time. The integrity of the voting process is important to us, and we do everything possible to ensure that it isn’t violated. We hope that this action will promote the free flow of ideas and voting, and ensure that each grant is awarded based on the true enthusiasm of its supporters.

Again we thank you for your thoughts on this subject and the rest of the program.

Sincerely,
Bonin Bough
Global Director of Digital and Social Media, PepsiCo

Mazarine

Dear Beth,

Thanks for posting about this.

I've long thought that these "vote for me" contests are nothing more than popularity contests which take away from a nonprofit employee's limited time, and for what? A tiny prize, and now the corporation has all of the donor information, which they use in their vast, never-ending marketing campaigns. How is this a good way to repay your donors for their loyalty?

It's been a good experiment, but now the time has come to actually ask charities where they want to direct their attention-towards the activities that make them the most money, or towards meaningless manufactured corporate contests?

http://wildwomanfundraising.com

Grahambot

Okay, now the idea I'm championing is in 11th place. We are losing to machines. Let's take a look at the 10th place entry in the $50K category: Saber es Poder. There is clear evidence of a bot running interaction with their idea.

http://www.refresheverything.com/SABEResPODER

Look at the "comments" section at the bottom of the page. Tonight, there have been a succession of comments posted by users within minutes of each other, and each user's last name is in alphabetical order. I'm pasting the comments below. Clearly, the org is having someone or some thing log in and scroll through a long list of users and vote. As we speak.

MANNY BALTAZAR
ROCK AND ROLL BABY
29 minutes ago

MARIA AVILA
GOOD JOB
40 minutes ago

JASHREE ARORA
OK I LOVE IT
51 minutes ago

NANCY ARMOCIDA
MORE
54 minutes ago

NATHAN ARELLANO
WHOOOOO C'MON
57 minutes ago

DAIJA ARAS
OH YEAH
59 minutes ago

BARBARA ANTHES
OH YES
65 minutes ago

DAVID ANDREWS
OK NICE
70 minutes ago

REY ANDERSEN
YES
72 minutes ago

Jana Byington-Smith, CFRE - Twitter: JForTheMoney

As a fundraiser, I never discount any (ethical) fundraising technique -- almost everything works for someone somewhere, and being donor-centric and prospectivedonor-centric is the core of donor acquistion and retention. I make a clear distinction between communications ROI and fundraising ROI here.

I loved this line, Beth: "I’ve been reflecting about the cause cynicism and wondering how much is this something that we as insiders are feeling versus something that is out there more broadly?" Really, I don't hear anyone complaining. In fact, a few of my clients have come to me and said, 'we should be signing up for Pepsi Refresh.' None had read the fine print of the contest rules -- if they had, they might have seen the proxy flaw (and it is, in my mind, a true flaw given the purpose of friend-making social media as opposed to fundraising social media).

If an org wants to use a 'vote for us' contest of the scale of Pepsi's and Chase's to acquire friends, that's ok -- but if the likelihood of winning funds is so very low, the org has to recover from failure disappointment. Without proxy or thousands and thousands of existing friends, the org simply will not get enough votes to win.

Really, people don't donate to unsuccessful nonprofits -- people give to perceived 'winners,' those orgs that serve their communities, run successful programs and report back to their constituents about the impact of their programs. If the org is ready for the toxic 'we lost the big contest' clean-up to gain friends, and it is ready to immediately engage its new friends with a likely success, well, then 'rock on' I say.

Jana Byington-Smith, CFRE - Twitter: JForTheMoney

As a fundraiser, I never discount any (ethical) fundraising technique -- almost everything works for someone somewhere, and being donor-centric and prospectivedonor-centric is the core of donor acquistion and retention. I make a clear distinction between communications ROI and fundraising ROI here.

I loved this line, Beth: "I’ve been reflecting about the cause cynicism and wondering how much is this something that we as insiders are feeling versus something that is out there more broadly?" Really, I don't hear anyone complaining. In fact, a few of my clients have come to me and said, 'we should be signing up for Pepsi Refresh.' None had read the fine print of the contest rules -- if they had, they might have seen the proxy flaw (and it is, in my mind, a true flaw given the purpose of friend-making social media as opposed to fundraising social media).

If an org wants to use a 'vote for us' contest of the scale of Pepsi's and Chase's to acquire friends, that's ok -- but if the likelihood of winning funds is so very low, the org has to recover from failure disappointment. Without proxy or thousands and thousands of existing friends, the org simply will not get enough votes to win.

Really, people don't donate to unsuccessful nonprofits -- people give to perceived 'winners,' those orgs that serve their communities, run successful programs and report back to their constituents about the impact of their programs. If the org is ready for the toxic 'we lost the big contest' clean-up to gain friends, and it is ready to immediately engage its new friends with a likely success, well, then 'rock on' I say.

Marc Maxson

I'm surprised that it took 2 cycles for examples of "bots" gaming this context to emerge. Any new system for distributing this amount of wealth and power, whatsoever, is going to attract its share of manipulators. It's a lot like our own political system.

Can we honestly say that democracy in USA is doing much better at the moment? (Or parliament in Kenya, for that matter, where I happen to reside at the moment). As games-designing is a hobby of mine, I wonder if we shouldn't be experimenting with many more methods for spreading wealth, instead of "blowing them all up." Wouldn't the alternative be some kind of corporate autocracy?

Melissa F. Moschitto

Great post. Great discussion. Ben - thanks for your comments. I think that's a great example and an important distinction. To me, the Pepsi contest boils down to one thing: how many people do you know and how many times can you get them to vote without alienating them with constant appeals? My theatre company did not enter the contest (and probably won't) but a friend's did and their daily appeals became taxing, as much as I love them. How many voters on the Pepsi site are actually reading about the projects/organizations and choosing based on merit or innovation? I'd guess not many - they are just voting for the org. that asked them to. I think that it's a huge time and resources drain for small organizations who don't end up making the cut. And what do they learn/gain by participating? I'm not so sure.

One idea that I had about how to improve the contest....We recently participated in Kickstarter, a fundraising tool where you ask people to back your project by pledging money. They only have to pay their pledge IF you reach your goal by your deadline. If you fail to reach it, no one has to pay their pledge. The idea is to properly fund your project and for your donors to see/know that you are getting support from more than just them. So that you're not trying to do a project that costs $2,000 for only the $500 that you've been able to actually raise.

What if....Pepsi chose those 100 projects that met their criteria and THEN, instead of a month-long process of mind-numbing voting, the orgs had to raise $5,000 and Pepsi would match it? Of course, there would have to be clear guidelines about how you're raising the money and making sure that these are legitimate donations (e.g. I'm not putting the $5,000 in there myself). Maybe asking someone to contribute $10 to your campaign is more meaningful than asking them to vote 5 times every day for 31 days? At least people can see real, measurable progress.

Thoughts?

Tim

Great post. Variety the childrens charity of Kansas City has been in the Pepsi Refresh contest thru the month of April and it has not panned out as expected. We started out at 70th place, and moved up to 30th with the day-things were looking good. Since then we have slowly inched our way down to 92nd!

We've used up media resources such as billboards, tv and radio to promote this along with an extensive Facebook marketing campaign and an Ambassador of the Vote program. Similarly to you, I scouted a few pages in the top ten and noticed a lot of comments about fake accounts. Basically you can create bogus email addresses and vote from each one each day b/c there is no confirmation that the email addy even exists.

My group has worked their but off only to drop to 92nd place. Next month we have 2 projects in the campaign! Do we continue to dump resources into a flawed system and expect a different outcome? My gut tells me NO. But if we "cheat" like some of the others, we just might win, take home the money and purchase wheelchair vans and adaptive bicycles for special needs kids and their families.

The rules may not consider it as cheating

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