Recently a number of my benefit auction clients have been participating in online contests for nonprofits.
Most of them are not feeling “warm and fuzzy” when the contest ends.
“Don’t even mention the word “Pepsi” to me,” said one, who was exhausted after coming *that* close to winning thousands in the Pepsi Refresh challenge, only to lose by a handful of last-minute online votes to a competing nonprofit.
Then she said something I’ve also heard from others:
“With so much time having been devoted to getting the word out to our supporters to vote, I feel that we’re now behind in planning for our annual benefit auction.”
Benefit auctions are reliable income. If you’ve been operating one for a few years, you can – with relative accuracy – plan for the amount you want to raise. Using tested formulas, your auction can become dependable income for a group.
Not so reliable.
It’s almost like hearing your friend invested $100,000 in lottery tickets instead of buying the house he’d been admiring. I’m sure you’d say, “You … did … WHAT?!?”
Contests are chances.
Sure, by following guidelines, you can improve your odds at winning (recall that Red Apple Auctions team member Julie regularly wins huge sweepstakes, and enjoys trips around the world), but there is no guarantee.
Some of the strategies individuals use to win contests isn’t much different than what a nonprofit could use to marshal support.
For instance, in my own condominium community of 1600 units, I’ve been voting for one of my neighbors as she competes in the Sears Chef Challenge.
I don’t know Pam, but she’s been sending out posts on our community listserve and posting signs around the area to turn out the vote.
(Or “turn on the vote, as it were, given that this is an online contest.)
Some of the strategies are similar.
- Sending an email reminder to vote every day (if voting is allowed every day).
- Encourage fans to ask their friends to vote, too.
- Offer your fans an incentive to advertise on behalf of your submission. (You can create a “contest within a contest.” Maybe the individual who refers the most votes wins two free tickets to your annual benefit auction?)
But boy, I hate the idea of spending loads of staff time on a contest if it’s competing with the planning of your auction. The auction is a “sure thing;” the contest is a chance.
My advice: See if the contest work can be given to a volunteer or intern. Maybe someone like our Julie, who has a knack for it.
I agree Sherry, an online contest can be useful for marketing purposes, but it is – after all – only a contest. PepsiRefresh is currently giving away $1.3 million every month, but for a smaller organization to win seems pretty much impossible. For smaller groups it does make sense to put resources into a project that has a more measurable outcome.
PS: we’d love to publish a guest post of yours about fundraising auctions on FundraisingIP.com!
Hi Marita – Thanks for visiting. Seems as though your comment was directed into our blog’s trash bin so I just now saw the post. We’ll check out the website and be in touch!
Lori L. Jacobwith says
Betsy, One tip for folks who have poured their time into a contest and not won is to let all those supporters know how close you came and what you would have done with the winnings. Then, invite their support with a quick emotional story about someone waiting for your services…make it easy to make a gift of any size. Turn those excited supporters in donors even if it’s a small gift. And then take GOOD care of them until you invite another gift later in the year.
Gerald Hundt says
I am not a believer in either one, auctions can work, contests, usually the benefit other than the charity ie. Pepsi. I prefer raising money the old fashioned way, ask for it! It works and if managed effectively there is no donor burn out with multiple asks.
Lisa Patterson says
Gerald, you are right, all parts of a development plan need to be integrated so the donor’s experience is positive throughout the life of their relationship with a non-profit. When done properly, fundraising auctions have the ability to make development oh-so-much easier. Put 300 people in a room and give them a powerful group experience; non-profits will see that the synergy creates a energy-rich, memorable event. That experience makes it easier to secure “the really big money” in the months that follow.
Barbara P says
Having just participated in the Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook this is particularly relevant. In my opinion – contests shouldn’t take the place of planned fundraisers. However, depending on the contest – it may well be worth some investment. In the case of Chase – 200 non-profits won – including us. While we didn’t get the ‘grand prize” we did win $20,000. It was a dedicated volunteer who drove it and that helped alot. I would though avoid those contests with one or two winners that tend to just leave a “bad taste”.
Barbara – Congrats! That’s wonderful. And thanks so much for sharing the inspiration. 🙂 I’m glad you had a volunteer “running the show,” so to speak as it sounds like a strategy others can follow.
Sandy Rees says
I’m right with you Sherry. I’d rather see nonprofits spend their precious resources of time and money focusing on things that will work for them, not chasing rainbows.
Thanks for verbalizing this – I’ll be sharing with some of my followers!
Sandy Rees, CFRE
Ah, but those “lottery tickets” (contests) can be tempting, eh?
Betsy Baker says
Sherry, great information! It sounds like you know your business well – I’ll look forward to reading more from you.
Thanks for stopping by, Betsy. Welcome to the blog.
Roger Carr says
Contests can stir up excitement that will provide additional funds and supporters. However, your caution is right on target. I am excited that you suggested using volunteers as a way to compete without taking away too much time from staff.
One thing you did not mention is that there has been some controversy around some of the online contests regarding fairness. Be sure to read and understand the rules before jumping in.
Great add-on, Roger. Reading the fine print is no doubt the first order of business!