More and more companies have adopted the use of Facebook contests to attract new fans and create word-of-mouth buzz. What I wanted to know was if nonprofits could use the same tools to raise awareness and support for their causes.
Traditionally promotional marketing has been used by businesses as a marketing ploy designed to encourage a customer to take action towards a buying decision. You may say that as a nonprofit you are not selling anything, but that is simply not true.
You may not be selling a product, but you are selling an idea, a vision for the world and the possibility for change. The things is, a product, a physical thing that people can own, can be given away in a contest, but as charities we give away our vision every day because we want people to share our idea and our hopes and participate in some way.
So what can we offer our supporters, what do our supporters want from us and why do they give their money away to us anyway?
Why do they give their money to us anyway?
The answer may be that there is a transaction that is taking place. A key reason that donors give is that they want to make a positive difference in the world. Saving lives, reducing suffering, feeding the hungry, eliminating disease are at the heart of the original definition of a charity; and many are still motivated first and foremost by this most philanthropic of reasons for giving. Even when a donor says they want nothing in return, they want to know they are making a contribution for good. They give because they want to be part of that cause because they too want to change the world for the better.
How then can we run a contest?
Any contest run by a nonprofit should incorporate those ideas. They should expand on the expectations and the needs of our supporters. As you begin to develop ideas always return to that core idea that donors want to feel connected to those changes they are funding.
Nonprofits may not have products we can give away, or discount coupons we can share, but as facilitators and funders what they have in abundance is access.
Nonprofits are directly connected to the people delivering change and those who they help, and are connected to those outcomes in a way that most supporters likely never will be. Even nonprofits that work hard to be transparent, to provide updates and show donors the outcomes of their support will be limited in what they can communicate. News, photos, blogs and field updates can provide only a limited connection or understanding of what has been achieved and what their impact has been.
Contests might provide a way to offer a more personalized form of connection in a way that is manageable for nonprofits.
The problem of connecting with our communities
Donor accountability will always be beholden to the resources an organization has. It needs to fit into a process and be manageable and scalable. Even while we build systems to customize our responses, such as connecting people to GPS signals of the wells we have helped build or research projects we have funded, these systems and processes remain inhuman.
We may get news updates, blogs and posts, but we don’t want to know what the charity has accomplished, we want to know what we have accomplished, we want to be connected to the projects we have funded, and most of all the people we want to help.
This type of personalised donor feedback does not seem to be something that nonprofits are capable of delivering universally, at least I have yet to see a good example of this, due I imagine to the resource implications, perhaps willingness and the perceived benefits to the charity, although such programs exist for major donors.
Contests may be the way that we offer this experience to supporters, by providing a mechanism that minimizes resource requirements by limiting the scope to individual winners.
So you need some practical ideas
The way you use Facebook contests to connect your supporters really depends on your charity, your resources, your cause and the type of support you provide.
One way to connect with people using contests is to grant them access to places that otherwise they would never see. If you work for Greenpeace maybe you could invite a supporter onto The Rainbow Warrior or a health charity might take a supporter to a research lab.
If you run local programs you could invite people to the places where you work and show them how they have helped. On the other hand if you are an international development charity you might allow donors the opportunity to have a live GoToMeeting with the village where their support helped to fund a well or build a school, so they can see what they have achieved.
You could also provide access to people connected to your cause. A health charity might provide access to a researcher that is being funded by the charity through donations or a meeting with your research director when they can ask questions about research projects.
Another interesting idea would be to find ways to connect supporters to outcomes by personalizing donations. A nonprofit like ShelterBox could run a photo contest asking supporters to send in pictures of customized designs for their boxes that Facebook fans could vote on. The winning design would be used to customize a single box and the winner would decide where it was sent. Pictures of the people receiving the box and a story about their situation would then be posted online, again connecting the donor to the people they seek to help.
The advantage of using contests in this way is that they provide greater insight into the work your nonprofit does and they are closely aligned to your cause and so help to increase awareness, and think how much more your prospective winners will care about and understand what you do. How much more do you think they will want to help now they have seen that a difference you are making.
How has your nonprofit used contests?
There are so many potential ideas I would be interested to know what people working in the nonprofit sector think and how they might use contests, and if you decide to use the ideas in this post I would love to hear what you decide to do and what the outcomes were.If you need any further advice about different applications you can use to run contest I would be happy to answer them.