Oh, so many funding contests, so little time! My inbox is flooded by announcements about contests from companies like the Serious Good contest for nonprofits to win refurbished computer equipment, PayPal’s “Regift the Fruitcake” fundraising contest , Chase Bank’s Community Giving Contest, and now the big one, $50 million, from Pepsi’s Refresh Everything contest coming in 2010.
As you may have read, Chase has taken quite a bit of heat for their lack of transparency with their contest. I am a bit abashed about this as I lauded the effort initially because of the focus on local nonprofits as opposed to large national groups. I missed the alarming lack of transparency, like no leaderboard, which as Beth rightly points out is now standard practice for online voting and fundraising efforts. Worse, still, Chase apparently pulled a bait and switch according to Nathanial Whitemore on Change.org when they disqualified anti-choice and pro-Marijuana groups because they found their missions controversial. In my opinion, their lack of a transparent culture is really the culprit here. There are no statements from them, no people to get out from behind the logo and talk about their choices and decisions. Chase is a huge fortress dictating the rules from on high.
So, what are nonprofits to do in the face of big money being made available by companies that are using social media but not necessarily using it well? Kjerstin Erickson writes on Social Edge that there are opportunity costs for organizations that enter contests. Asking one’s network to participate in contests means that the organization isn’t doing other things – like building relationships or writing grant proposals. It also means that the network isn’t doing other things, like crowdsourcing new programs.
However, in a year that seems certain to be dismal in terms of foundation funding, the large amounts of money that corporations are willing to give as part of their advertising and marketing efforts shouldn’t be ignored. Nonprofits should participate in the contests. But there is something that we can do, collectively, when corporations bring their old, proprietary, closed behavior online. We can state loudly and clearly what we expect in terms of normative behavior from the funders. We have the power of persuasion on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and email to nudge, encourage, recommend and, yes, shout when necessary, that the contest organizers practice good behavior.
C’mon corporate funders, get out from behind your logos, talk with us about the contest and the rules, admit your mistakes, tell us what you’re learning as well.