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Joanne Fritz

'50 States for Good' Gives Small Nonprofits Edge

By August 22, 2011

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Tom's is a feel-good company with feel-good, natural products. And they walk the talk of corporate social responsibility, donating 10% of pre-tax profits to charitable organizations supporting the environment, human needs, the arts, and education; and encouraging employees to use 5% of their paid time volunteering for nonprofits of their choice.

It's no wonder then that Tom's of Maine sponsors a yearly contest that provides charities the opportunity to take home as much as $50,000.

Now through September 13, the public can vote on the top 20 nonprofit finalists of the competition at 50 States for Good. Five nonprofits will receive $20,000 and the top vote getter will receive $50,000 to do good in their neck of the woods. The winners, determined by the public vote, will be announced in October 2011.

I particularly like the Tom's of Maine program because it awards smaller nonprofits, with less than $2 million operating budgets. And these charities are spread across the U.S., doing good deeds from providing meals to the elderly in Burlington N.C, to planting trees in hurricane ravaged Galveston, to a dance project in Monterey bringing awareness to oceans and climate change.

Applications to the 50 States for Good program were narrowed to 20 finalists by a panel of judges including Christie Garton with USA Today's Kindness Blog, Beth Kanter, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and co-founder of Zoetica, and Sam Davidson.

Davidson, President of Cool People Care and author of Simplify Your Life, helped decide which charitable applicants became the finalists in the contest. Davidson has been a judge for the contest for three years. He explained why and what he looks for:

"I like the Tom's of Maine campaign because it allows ordinary people the chance to determine where philanthropic dollars are spent, without being millionaires. Very few people get a chance to determine how $150,000 is given away, so this is very unique. As a judge, I love the contest because it has very clear parameters (age of organization, budget size, program type) that help to recognize nonprofits that might usually fly under the radar. I also like the focus Tom's puts on getting applicants from each state so that every part of our country is represented.

"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? I've seen some unique programs and ideas in my time as a judge. It's really fantastic to see the dreams and innovation that exist in the nonprofit world today."

Social media is the key to successfully competing in charity contests like this one. Anne Baker, Executive Director of Alamance County Meals on Wheels, Inc, said of her nonprofit's participation:

"People have started to tease me about my email signature because you just can't miss the plea for Tom's of Maine. I am thrilled with being teased because I know they are noticing and hopefully voting. I do feel as though we were unprepared for this wonderful opportunity....I wish I had really seen the power of social media before I actually really desperately needed the power of it."

Amanda Swan, Director of Development & Communications for The Lands Council in Spokane, said that they are "Sending twice-weekly reminder e-alerts to our database of members....press releases to all local media as well as like-minded groups....[and] Used facebook and twitter to regularly promote 'Reforest Spokane Day' and remind followers to vote...."

Priscilla Files, Tree Planting Coordinator for Galveston Island Tree Conservancy, told me, "Basically, we're mostly promoting through social media (facebook and twitter so far) and also handing out cards with the information and QR codes to vote....I send out a daily reminder to vote and am trying to be as creative as possible with that so I'm not too annoying."

Voting costs you nothing, so do get your vote in today for one of these terrific organizations.

If you're a nonprofit considering taking part in a charity contest, be sure to check out these tips in Three Experts Suggest Paths to Success in Charity Contests.


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August 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm
(1) Committee against time-wasting philanthropy says:

I don’t mean to be overly grumpy or merely contrarian — Tom’s is extraordinarily generous. But to divert so much time, energy, effort and social capital to get people to click on Tom’s website once a day seems like a lot of work for the small non-profits the program purports to benefit. For the 6 winners there are 14 substantial losers in this exercise.

There’s no guarantee the six winners are most deserving, or that they bring the most return on investment. And there’s a strong bias against more rural organizations who may be doing great work but don’t have the membership of mailing list base to bother each and every day.

The click-to-win model of philanthropy seems lazy to me. And unfortunate.

But good luck to everyone. May the best organization win!

August 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm
(2) nonprofit says:

Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I don’t consider you grumpy at all. A lot of people have doubts about charity contests, and I can understand their and your concerns. I think the worst aspect of contests is that most of the charities “lose.” But, like cause marketing, I think the model is here to stay so nonprofits should get their social media houses in order so they can compete when appropriate. It’s not for everyone and all should think hard about whether the effort is worth it. It can be a great learning experience though and lead to considerable publicity, especially in the organizations’ local areas. The NPOs I spoke with have gotten considerable local publicity through their participation.

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