September 10, 2012

Chase Online Contest Draws Ire for Technical Glitches

The prospect of winning a grant from the annual Chase Community Giving contest prompts many small nonprofits to aggressively encourage their supporters to vote in the online competition. Small charities that get the most votes from their online supporters are eligible to win up to $250,000, and a total of $5-million will be awarded through the competition.

But when some of those supporters attempted to cast their votes, they were turned aside.

A swell of visitors to the JPMorgan Chase's contest on Facebook Thursday, the first day of the competition, slowed the system and made it difficult for some to vote for their favorite nonprofits.

By Monday, those issues had been resolved, said Erich Timmerman, a Chase spokesman. But many nonprofits are nonetheless using the contest's Facebook page to post complaints about the competition and raise questions about its fairness, which has also attracted criticism in the past.

"This buggy voting system is making a lot of us lose votes as we had planned marketing efforts to get votes! Once a voter tries to vote once, they most likely won't vote again!" a commenter using the name Joseph Lee posted on the contest's Facebook wall.

Mr. Timmerman said the campaign had already received about 300,000 votes by Monday morning, close to matching the 345,000 votes cast during all of last year's two-week contest.  And that heavy volume has caused some technical issues that affected some of the voters last week.

"We've actually had overwhelming participation this year. We anticipated that because of the number of nominations that rolled in," Mr. Timmerman said.

About 30,000 charities were nominated for the contest by Chase customers and employees.

The 196 organizations that receive the most votes in the contest will split the $5-million that bank has promised, with $250,000 going to the charity that received the most votes

The four-year-old Chase contest has run into criticism in the past. And similar online contests run by other companies have drawn criticism for acting more as to promote corporate images than philanthropy. These contests have also been praised for helping small charities, in particular, get attention.

Alisa Ressler Pachella, executive director of Synergy Charities, in Florida, is so eager to win the contest that she has rearranged the navigation at the top of her group's Web site so that nobody can miss the request to vote in the Chase competition.

Ms. Pachella said she is thankful for the opportunity to participate in the contest and for Chase's donations but adds that she has been frustrated by the glitches.

Some of her group’s supporters attempted to cast votes last week, only to be shut out by the system, she said. Others told her they received a message that their votes had been cast, only to find out later that the ballots hadn’t actually been received.

"It's difficult enough to have people do something but then to have to come back to them and ask them to do it again," Ms. Pachella says. "They lose interest if they try to do something too many times."

Mr. Timmerman says that those users could have been confused because the leaderboard updates twice daily, so it takes a while for votes to show up.

"We have not discovered any bug or defect in votes," he said. "No votes have been 'lost' or cast and not registered."

The contest leader as of Monday afternoon, Help Nepal Network, had received 5,535 votes. Ms. Pachella's organization had received 26.

The contest ends September 19.

What has your experience been like with this year's Chase Community Giving contest? Post a comment below.

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.