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Joanne Fritz

Collaborative Competition: GiveMN Provides Outside-the-Box Lessons for Online Giving

By November 20, 2009

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We are seeing the next generation of online giving campaigns worked out one by one as this new tool evolves and expands.

GiveMN, sponsored by several Minnesota foundations, held a one-day "give to the max" campaign on November 17 that raised $14-million, exceeding its most ambitious expectations.

Based on a similar campaign in Dallas, TX, in May, that raised more than $4-million, the campaign featured a website that listed 3,434 nonprofits across Minnesota. Nearly 40,000 Donors picked one or more charities for their donations.

Like the recent America's Giving Challenge, sponsored by The CASE Foundation, Facebook Causes, and Parade Magazine, the charities that got the highest number of donations received bonus grants. In the GiveMN campaign, participating organizations received partial matching funds as well.

Characteristics of this successful campaign:

  • It was localized. The MN campaign raised $14 million. The Dallas, Texas campaign, even more localized, raised $3.8 million. The national America's Giving Challenge raised $2.1 million. A state-wide appeal might work best. Donors may feel more connected at a local level, while the state-wide size provided important scale.

  • It was extremely time limited. America's Giving Challenge ran for 30 days, whereas the MN and TX appeals were only 24 hours long. The shorter the better? Maybe it focuses the mind, and it's easier for volunteers to concentrate their energy. It's also possible that donors gave larger amounts to make up for the short time span.

  • It was leveraged. The sponsoring foundations provided more than $1-million toward covering transaction costs, prizes to the nonprofits who raised the greatest number of unique donors, and to match a portion of each donation.

  • It was designed to be magnified by social media, tapping the viral power of online, instant communications. Costs were controlled by the tight time frame and by the heavy use of low-cost or free online tools.

  • It was collaborative, involving many organizations and several sponsors, as were America's Giving Challenge and the Dallas effort. On the other hand, it was also competitive, rewarding those organizations who were well organized and enthusiastic. Collaborative competition might become the new fundraising standard.

  • It was in Minnesota. Is it the weather? Garrison Keillor? Or just the historically high interest of its residents in their community that makes Minnesota one of the most volunteering and generous states?

Questions Worth Considering:

  • Are competitions the future of online fundraising? Is it worthwhile for charities to "chase" competitions? Or does it fragment their efforts and divert them from more effective fundraising?

  • How worthwhile to an individual charity are these campaigns? In the case of America's Giving Challenge, the organization with the most individual donations won a prize of $50,000, with smaller, but still substantial, prizes going to other campaign leaders. The Minnesota campaign provided small bonuses for leaders, but matched a portion of the donations to each nonprofit. Is it worthwhile for those charities who are "non-winners"?

What do you think? Have you been involved in an online fundraising event such as GiveMN as a donor, fundraiser, or organization? What are the advantages and/or drawbacks of such collaborative competitions?

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