Should Your Nonprofit Participate in an Online Contest?
What nonprofit isn’t looking for visibility, new volunteers, or an increase in fundraising revenue? That’s one of the reasons for the popularity of online contests. An online contest looks like a fairly easy route to all of these things – but as with anything else, nothing is as easy as it seems.
There are basically two types of participatory contests: the “beauty contest” and the contest with qualifications.
More Commitment Than You Think
The “beauty contest” is simply a voting popularity contest. The nonprofit is essentially pitted against other nonprofits and whichever organization gets the most votes wins. While there may be little commitment on the part of the nonprofit to enter this type of contest, there is actually a lot of work required if the nonprofit has any chance of winning. The nonprofit needs to make an all-out effort to mobilize donors, volunteers, and friends to get the vote out. Typically, that means using your website and every social media channel available to you to maximum advantage. Even if you generate enthusiasm and get a large number of votes, there always seems to be another organization that can do it just a little bit better. That makes this type of contest a long shot at best.
There is another type of participatory contest, however, that may be well worth the nonprofit’s effort. These contests tend to be sponsored by commercial businesses looking for some positive PR for demonstrating corporate social responsibility. This kind of contest is a win-win: the corporation gets the halo effect of helping nonprofits, and one or more nonprofit organizations win a prize.
Beyond the Popular Vote
Sponsored criteria-based contests usually go way beyond the popular vote and they often involve a panel of judges. The nonprofit typically has to complete an application, which could involve anything from a simple form to submitting a visionary plan or even a video. But the effort the organization puts in can often have a substantial payback.
“50 States for Good,” sponsored by Tom’s of Maine, is a good example of such a contest. Small nonprofits that support “healthy, human and environmental goodness,” according to Tom’s of Maine, can apply annually. Judges choose a finalist from every state. Then the public can vote on which six organizations share an award of $150,000. (Voting this year starts on September 10.) The top award is $50,000.
Sam Davidson, one of this year’s judges, says 50 States for Good can “recognize nonprofits that might usually fly under the radar. … When picking a finalist, I look for two things: 1) How bold is the vision? Is this something that will have a lasting – and not just a temporary – impact? 2) Can they pull it off? Given the time frame and volunteers needed that the applicant provided, do I think they can turn their big vision into a reality?”
To determine if an online contest is worth your while, you need to critically evaluate it as you would any business endeavor. Nonprofit social media expert Beth Kanter, a former 50 States for Good judge offers these tips via Joanne Fritz, the About.com guide for nonprofit charitable organizations:
- Do the ROI analysis first. Ask and answer if it is worth it before you jump in.
- Have your network in place before you need it. Build your team on staff and volunteers, but also people that you’ve connected with through social networks who can be your brand advocates.
- Use storytelling. The most effective pitches to get help are people telling their personal stories about why they care about your organization and the result of your organization’s winning.
- Say thanks in creative ways. Thank donors publicly, but also thank people who ask others – make them role models for others.
So if you want to participate in a contest, be sure it’s worth your while – and that you and your organization are prepared to do what it takes to win.