Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Do Social Media Contests Lead To Donor Fatigue?

December 9th, 2013 by Karen Climer

Recently, a client said to me, “We need more contests.  Do you know of any contest?”

It took all of the self-control I had to not say, “Do you mean those contests where you invest 30 hours of staff time, annoy everyone on your email list, and raise zero dollars?  Do you mean one of those contests that send a clear message to donors that you don’t know how to effectively use your limited staff resources?  Is that the kind of contest you are looking for?”

(Since my mother reads my blog occasionally, I need to make it clear that that is not how I actually responded.  That response took place in my head.  Don’t worry, Mom.  My real response was polite and professional.)

I simply said that I was not aware of any upcoming contests.

These contests are great for the companies that sponsor them.  In fact, it’s brilliant.  They get millions of people visiting their websites.  Sometimes, they even capture their email addresses.

For the nonprofits, though, I have found all of these contests to be a  colossal waste of time.  One example of a contest might require the nonprofit to create a video and upload it to the Big Money Bank website.  People go to the Big Money Bank website to vote on their favorite video.  The nonprofit video with the most votes will receive a $2,500 donation from Big Money bank.  This sounds like easy money, right?  All you have to do is ask everyone in your database to vote for you.  Since they can vote once per day, if everyone votes every day, you will win $2,500.

These contests are like the lottery – the lure of winning of the big jackpot is too tempting for some.  Some organizations saying, “Well, let’s just try the contest.  Who knows?  We might win.”  But just like the lottery, the people who can least afford the tickets are the ones who buy the most tickets.  A small organizations have fewer staffers and fewer people in their database, so the tax on the staffers and the donors is greater.

Wait a minute, you say.  There is not tax on donors.  I believe these contests are more taxing on donors than they are on staffers.

If an organization sends you an email asking to vote for them in the contest (It only takes a second!), it feels like spam – even if it is your favorite charity.  Then tomorrow, they ask again (you can vote once a day!).  Now it really feels like spam.  By the third day (we’re in second place, we can really use your vote), you unsubscribe from their email list.  But that doesn’t help, because by this time the nonprofit has mobilized its Social Media Special Forces Team.  They are coming at you from all angles – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, everywhere – to penetrate your fortress and get you to “just take one second to vote for our nonprofit.”  You finally give in and vote.   Two weeks later, you get a note from the nonprofit asking you to contact your local politician.  But you don’t because you are burnt out.  Then they ask you to attend their open house.  You don’t because you are burnt out.  Then they ask you to donate money.  They need your donation because they didn’t win the contest.  You don’t because you are burnt out.

You can only ask so much of people.  We ask people to donate, to volunteer, to attend events, to advocate.  Before you ask someone to vote for you in a social media contest, ask yourself, “Which one of these things (donate, volunteer, attend events, or advocate) am I willing to give up in exchange for this vote?”  My guess is none.  Save your asks for what is really important.

If anyone has had a different experience with these contests, maybe you won the contest, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

Posted in Cause-related Marketing, Social Media

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