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Online Fundraising Contests: Effective or Digital Litter?

In the good old Web 1.0 days cause marketing campaigns got a bad rap. Some criticized corporations and said their cause marketing efforts were PR stunts designed to score brownie points with the public. In the Web 2.0 world, cause marketing contests such as Pepsi Refresh and Chase Community Giving have caused a different kind of ruckus. It's called digital litter. Why? Because in cause marketing contests, charities and ordinary citizens are encouraged to reach out to their online networks and ask people to vote for their favorite charities. The charity with the most votes receives cash grants ranging from $10K to $250K+ to help fulfill their mission. Critics say that the obsession with voting is not only cluttering up their email, but their social networking space too.

"The problems with using social channels heavily for things like vote-raising events like this is that it floods one’s channel with that kind of promotion. That’s problem 1. The secondary problem is that if you’re someone with a larger following, you have to manage how many of these competitions you’re going to promote, because one begets another begets misgivings about which charities one supports and which charities one doesn’t," said Chris Brogan, who was irked enough to write about this recently on his personal blog.

Others in the debate feel that it’s an organization's actual work on the ground that should speak louder than their talent for garnering "votes". What about small nonprofits who just don't have the large email lists or staff time and resources to spend all day on social networks asking people to vote for them? How can they take advantage of opportunities like this?

"I think that nonprofits really need to think about the ROI before entering these contests. Organizations need to hit the pause button and ask if they should participate in the contest in the first place," said Beth Kanter who developed an ROI checklist as result of her research through the American Giving Challenge.

What do you think? Are online fundraising contests effective or are they turning into digital litter campaigns?

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Reader Comments (3)

I raise my hand for the digital litter. Send out one or email or maybe 2-3 facebook/tweets to see if there's anyone who WANTS to do the voting- if they reply yes then you add them to a 2nd list. That's what Progress Now has done.

I find the programs appalling tho. It's a PERFECT example of the tenants of capitalism giving us the scraps from the table and claiming we have a seat at the dinner.
July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Banditelli
A twist on this would be to require a large org to pair up with a small one, and split the prize between them. They could base large vs. small on operating budget.

Agree on the digital litter; I'm at the point where I visit that page on Facebook maybe once every 3-6 months. And at that point I'm just going in to delete it all out.
July 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlison Heittman
Defining what is "litter" and what is more "valid" content can become a super grey area. I know that most of the time "vote for me!" links are just ignorable, but that 10% of the time where a friend or cause I really believe in comes along, I definitely try to help them out and I'm happy that they asked me. One man's trash is another man's treasure, I guess.

I agree that it's all about ROI, though. If I'm spending 4 hours a day promoting a contest and only getting a few votes from people who are going to vote for me anyway, then that's a waste of time. And, in all honesty, I do feel that most of the time, it takes a lot of work to get votes in these kinds of contests from people who wouldn't vote for you anyway.
July 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Garcia

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