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Using Social Media to Win Charity Competitions

How Email Trumped Social Media for Kiwanis in the Chase Giving Contest

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Using Social Media to Win Charity Competitions
Kiwanis International

The Kiwanis International Foundation, Inc. entered the Chase Community Giving competition for nonprofits in late 2009. Kiwanis International won $25,000 in the contest, after receiving enough votes to place in the top 100 charities.

We interviewed Chip McComb, New Media Specialist at Kiwanis, about his organization's participation in the contest.

Nonprofit Guide:
Tell me about your organization. What does it do?

Chip McComb:
The Kiwanis International Foundation is the fundraising arm of Kiwanis International, a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.

Nonprofit Guide:
Tell me how the Chase competition worked.

Chip McComb:
From November 15th to December 16th Chase's philanthropic arm asked Facebook users to nominate their favorite charities and tell them (through a popular vote) which of the nominated charities deserved to win $1mm. In order to nominate a charity, a user had to have a Facebook account, and they must have granted the Chase Community Giving Application access to their Facebook profile. During this initial period more than 500,000 charities were nominated.

When the dust settled on December 17th, the 100 charities who received the most votes were awarded a $25,000 grant and were then given the opportunity to compete for the top grants of $1mm and $100,000.

The guidelines were simple. You must be a 501(c)3 organization with an operating budget of less than $10mm annually. In order to win the top grant you must tell the Facebook Community how you would use the $1mm using less than 3000 words, a few photos and a single video not to exceed 5 minutes.

Submissions were due on January 4th, the charities' big ideas were announced on January 8th and the second round of voting by the Facebook community commenced on January 15th. Eight days later -- on January 22nd --, the second voting period ended and the grants were awarded to the winning charities. Additionally, another $1mm was given away at the discretion of an advisory board.

Nonprofit Guide:
Why did your organization decide to participate in the Chase competition?

Chip McComb:
The Kiwanis International Foundation was actually nominated by one of our Circle K members (Circle K is our service leadership program operating in universities). We did not decide to actively pursue this opportunity until the final week of the first voting period, when our members made it clear that this is something that they felt we could win if we focused the entire weight of our membership behind it.

Nonprofit Guide:
What techniques did you use?

Chip McComb:
Once the Kiwanis International Foundation was voted into the top 100 finalists, we pursued a multi-pronged communications strategy to engage our entire membership. As Kiwanis is a diverse organization with more than 50% of our membership below the age of 18, (our Key Clubbers, etc.) and the other 50% of our membership with an average age of 57, we could not rely upon one method of communication. Email Communications, social media and direct contact with our members each played an important role in getting the word out.

Although Kiwanis currently touches over 33,000 members directly through social media, by far the most effective method of member communication was through email, not only because we could contact hundreds of thousands of members directly, but also because we could track our conversions easily. This helped us measure the effectiveness of our strategy and answer the questions such as, "Are we making it easy for our members to vote?" and "Are we communicating about this opportunity completely, efficiently, and concisely?"

Nonprofit Guide:
What did you learn? What would you have done differently? What tips do you have for other nonprofits that want to raise money in this way?

Chip McComb:
I'll be completely honest -- the Chase Community Giving Program challenged our abilities to reach all Kiwanians in a short period of time.

We as an organization are not used to communicating such time-sensitive information. What we learned from this experience will be invaluable as we formulate future integrated communications plans. That said, we are considering pursuing similar grants in the future. The Pepsi Refresh grants, which will be awarded monthly throughout 2010, seem to be the next opportunity on the horizon.

I'd recommend to other organizations thinking about pursuing similar grants that they evaluate the time commitment that will be required to mobilize their community. Also, it's sad to say, but local nonprofits generally don't have a chance to win these types of grants when larger not-for-profits that operate on a global scale are allowed into the fray. Funding local initiatives was one of the foci of the Chase Community Giving Program, but looking at the top 100 charities, and the top 6 charities that won most of the grant money, it's apparent that local 501(c)3 organizations didn't come out on top.

Nonprofit Guide:
After your experience with a charitable contest, what do you think in general about competitions of this nature? What impact do they have on philanthropy?

Chip McComb:
I do have some concern regarding the trend that this type of giving could have on the ethics of philanthropy.

In short, this method of giving creates ill will and competition on a number of levels that did not exist before. Scarcity, an economic principle that is generally absent from most philanthropic fundraising endeavors, has been introduced as Chase and others are opening the door to grantmaking by popular vote. It's capitalism with a different currency (votes). The case for support, demonstrated contributions of the organizations and general excellence do not necessarily come into play when individuals are deciding how to cast their votes.

Although the long term effects of this strategy remain to be understood, it's safe to say that the PR benefits of the program for Chase exceeded their expectations and, therefore, we're sure others will follow suit.

Our thanks to Chip for sharing some of the details of the Kiwanis activity during the Chase competition. If your organization has participated in a charity competition, we'd love to hear from you.

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