The sheer number of sites that allow a reader to rate nonprofits has my mouse trigger happy, my head spinning, and my brain questioning the openness of the internet.
I started this soul searching recently after speaking to a nonprofit founder/CEO about the current (and extended) GreatNonprofits: Jewish Choice Awards 2009 campaign. After the conversation I was left with questions that have led me to believe that these types on online contests are not the best strategies for spreading the word about great charities nor are these polls a fair judge of the world’s organizations. Allow me to elaborate:
1) Adding to the Noise
Todays donors are bombarded with advertisements and requests from every type of media known to man. Nonprofits should be trying to enhance a donors calm, not add to the uproar. I read recently an article entitled “In Fundraising, Sometimes Less is More” by Beaconfire Consultants that dealt with this very question.
Fundraising is a fine balancing act. On one hand, you want to make a strong push. On the other hand, at some point you get diminishing returns. At the same time, its a fair bet that their inboxes are being flooded by fundraising messages from other non-profits; you want to stand out from the crowd, but not be part of the noise. Sometimes, less is more. Whats one way to strike a healthy balance? Send fewer messages, but make them count more.
I myself have gotten three emails and countless tweets asking me to vote for my “GreatNonprofit.” I would definitely categorize this as noise.
2) Ineffective Donor Encounters
The purpose of every interaction between an organization and its donor should be to increase the connection between the giver and the recipient. Turning to a donor to vote for his favorite charity does not do this. The reason why not is described very well by consultant and author Steve Yastrow. In his book We, The Ideal Customer Relationship, Yastrow divides all interactions between a seller and a customer (and make no mistake about it, fundraisers are selling something that they hope donors are buying) into two categories, transactions and encounters. A transaction is any interaction that either damages the relationship or keeps the relationship status quo; encounters, however, are interactions that improve the relationship. Yastrow elaborate that encounters can only happen when the seller is engaging the buyer, totally focused on the moment.
I have trouble believing that these generic, masses-enlisted, charity popularity-contests are engaging constituents and endearing them to a charitys cause. Asking a donor to participate in this type of poll is not an encounter.
Additional proofs of the transaction-nature of the surveys are the generic, non-personal five “tips for gathering reviews” listed on the GreatNonprofits site:
Are you a nonprofit? Tips for gathering reviews:
- Send an email to your volunteers, clients, donors, and board members (for an email template, click here)
- Post to your facebook status
- Tweet out a link asking people to post reviews
- Post a link in a prominent place on your Web site
- Put a link in your email newsletter asking people to post reviews
Furthermore, when a nonprofit can turn to its supporters only a limited amount of times before seeming overbearing, why waste one of these limited opportunities on a transaction-like survey?
3) One-Way Street
Modern philanthropists do not want to merely mail a check or click the “donate now” button on a website. Today’s donor/charity relationship is all about the “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” relationship. Or in other words, the donor supplies the cash and the organization supplies an inclusive and sometimes tangible experience. Supporters are rolling up their sleeves to get dirty and those nonprofits that can adapt to this new donor are reaping the benefits. Recent case studies, articles, and blogs have been examining this new trend seemingly to no end. A great example of this win-win giving philosophy is “Leket” (a.k.a.Table to Table) that offered vacationers in Israel an enriching way to fill their holiday by harvesting vegetables for Israel’s less-fortunate. With this in mind, these kinds of contests seem to serve a totally non-experiential, unidirectional purpose that only benefits the organization.
4) Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
Getting back to the paragraph that got this blog started. In the past year we have seen an outbreak of sites that host reviews of charities so the public can benefit from authentic experiences. In theory, this is a great idea but practically it appears that with so many sites in existence we have lost any industry standard. There seems to be much duplication and overlap, but with no clear winner as to which site is the most trustworthy or comprehensive. I’m still uncertain as to which sites specialize in what areas and if these sites don’t have their own agendas. Or for that matter, I wonder if these contests only crop up so one site can gain popularity over others, but without offering any real advantages.
5) Survey Participants are not Heterogeneous
The demographics of the people filling out online surveys are not evenly spread out among ages and locations. The 45+ age category is a good example of this. While Facebook might be having an increase in this group, the same cannot be said of other social media networks. It goes without saying that even for people who are internet savvy, filling out an online survey is not the same as keeping your friends updated with 140 characters or less. The results, then, are not fair and somewhat misleading.
I have lots more to say but I would like to open the discussion and hear what others think. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Nice post – underscores a lot of what is wrong with these surveys. Hope you get circulation and it elicits some good debate.
Thanks Eric. The discussion is once again heating up. You can check out the Nonprofit Assistance Fund for a few of their posts on the subject.
” these types on online contests are not the best strategies for spreading the word about great charities nor are these polls a fair judge of the world’s organizations”
I think the answer is in the quoted paragraph – those type of contests aren’t meant to be ideal for spreading the word nor a fair judge.
If you view online contests, particularly with awards attached, simply as a means to involve people in the decision process, then that puts a different perspective on them.
I doubt many people would view “the winner” of any given contest as “the best” at anything in particular, rather, “the winner” is simply the non-profit which managed to get the most votes.
Its not a contest of the value of any organisation or the worth of their mission, simply a means of grant making which is participative in nature.
Dear Non-Profitplace, (To whom it may concern?)
Thanks for commenting. I think that you make a good point. Like everything else, it is always about strategy and purpose. These contests are one way to get people to participate.
With that said, I believe that my first three points (Adding to the Noise, Ineffective Donor Encounters, and One-Way Street) still apply.
There was a white paper written by NetSquared about online contests. I want read it and see what they say about the topic. I’m not saying that I am against online contests in theory, just the ones that seem to be popular nowadays.