September 20, 2012

Are Online Philanthropy Contests Worth the Effort?

After this year's Chase Community Giving contest closed after a troubled start, some nonprofit leaders debated the costs and benefits of participating in these type of vote-driven corporate philanthropy contests in The Chronicle's LinkedIn group.

Some nonprofit leaders say they have had success with the contests, while others are skeptical of whether the campaigns benefit nonprofits or the corporate donor.

Here are some highlights from the debate:

"My nonprofit won a $25,000 grant via the spring 2011 Chase Community Giving contest... We are interested in a contest if there are good odds and no daily voting requirements, among other things. We did three contests spread through 2011, winning three grants, but we've done none this year." —Anne Bowhay, director of foundation relations at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

"As development professionals, we need to remember its about relationships. What relationship will you have with the grantor/foundation/corporation offering this 'opportunity' if you choose to participate (or not)? Will it damage an established relationship?" —Jacqueline Harcourt, director of development at Latino Arts, in Milwaukee

"For us, being in one of these contest-type grants has been a wonderful thing so far. It may not work as well for some organizations. It has helped increase awareness of the need for our project and has served as a door-opener, so to speak, for relationships that will last long after the contest ends." —Carrie Hirmer, a consultant to nonprofits and businesses

"Just as businesses sponsor major events to get their names on banners and T-shirts to expose their businesses to more people and portray themselves as better community supporters, it is not altruism that they do this. It is a business expense that they hope will generate more income for their businesses." —Richard Freedlund, fundraising consultant

"I have been struck by how this sort of popularity-driven development effort is leading to real and growing cynicism among folks in general and among thoughtful funders in particular. There may be limited occasions when such an effort can be justified, but its growing popularity is counterproductive to the long-term credibility of the sector." —Richard Marker, philanthropy consultant

"I see it isn't for everyone, but I don't think of the proliferation of these contests as a tragedy, either. I'd consider each one separately, just like grants, and it should be handled by the person who does communications and marketing, not grants and development, unless they are the same person." —Lisa Glickstein, grants coordinator at Andover Public Schools in Massachusetts

What do you think of vote-driven giving contests? Has your organization participated in one or has it chosen not to? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.