Small Nonprofits Dominate Americas Giving Challenge

November 6, 2009       Michele Donohue      

A 30-day online competition showed how social media allows small nonprofits to garner huge support from donors during America’s Giving Challenge, which ended at 3 p.m. EST today.

The Challenge spurred more than 106,000 unique donations generating more than $2 million in donations estimated at the close. The Challenge leveraged the power of social networks and raised slightly more than the original Giving Challenge, which raised nearly $1.8 million and was 20 days longer.

The competition was presented by The Case Foundation, in Washington, D.C., the Causes application on Facebook, and PARADE Publications.

Causes originally competed for $170,000 in cash awards, $150,000 from the Case Foundation and $20,000 from The Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy & Social Innovation, awarded to those causes with the most unique donations daily and overall.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., announced it would give an additional $75,000 grant during the last week of the Giving Challenge. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant allowed for five additional overall awards, one of $25,000 and four of $10,000 prizes for causes with the most unique daily donations during the course of the Challenge, in addition to a $1,500 daily prize for the last week of the Challenge. 

The tentative top five overall Cause nonprofit leaders, and their corresponding cause pages, included Overseas China Education Foundation, in Houston, Texas; The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF: Food for People), in Los Angeles, Calif.; Overseas Save Chinese Children Foundation (Save Chinese Children), in Toledo, Ohio; Fitness Challenge (Ride 2 Recovery), Calabasas, Calif.; and, Atlas Service Corps (Atlas Corps = International Cooperation), in Washington, D.C.

Official Challenge award recipients will be announced on or before November 20, according to the Causes Web site.

The tentative overall Challenge winner, Overseas China Education Foundation, received more than 14,000 donations from more than 8,350 donors.

Michael Smith, vice president of social innovation at The Case Foundation, said he had no idea how the Challenge would play out this year with the faltering economy, but the personal fundraising in social networks created “the perfect storm.”

“This is personal fundraising. It’s not about The Case Foundation asking you to donate. It’s your friend asking you — that’s the future. That’s why we continue to look into small donor philanthropy,” said Smith.

Smith explained that an essential part of the Challenge was teaching nonprofits how to leverage their best supporters and fiercest advocates through social networking. This year, The Case Foundation offered a toolkit for nonprofits, with everything from best practices to Challenge banners and logos. There were also webinars, teleconferences and live question and answer sessions so nonprofits could prepare and learn more about fundraising on social networks, which Smith said was extremely popular.

Although large organizations were not banned from the Challenge, it seems like smaller organizations dominated the top results. In an assessment report after the first America’s Giving Challenge, nonprofit social media experts Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine found that smaller organizations were surprised and excited that they could leverage their supporters through the competition.

According to Kanter and Fine’s assessment, the largest percentage (28 percent) of cause organizations involved in the original challenge had an annual operating budget between $100,000 and $500,000, followed by budgets of less than $100,000 (25 percent), $1.01 million to $10 million (23 percent), $501,000 to $1 million (11 percent), and over $10 million (6 percent). Eight percent of the cause organizations responded they did not know the size of their annual operating budget.

Smith explained that social media allows for supporters to reach their extensive networks. “It’s completely a funnel flipped. A large organization may work differently. They know how to operate mass mailings, and that’s not how social media works,” said Smith.

Scott Beale, founder and CEO of Atlas Service Corps in Washington, D.C., said his organization, which primarily allows for nonprofit leader exchanges between 12 and 18 months, receives a financial boost through the Giving Challenge and also “allows us to empower our supporters to be advocates for Atlas Corps.” Atlas Corps ranked fifth in the overall Challenge.

Atlas Corps isn’t new to online fundraising competitions. During the first America’s Giving Challenge, Atlas Corps raised $33,000 from donors and won $50,000 for being among the top eight fundraisers. That financial boon allowed the organization to increase the number of fellows from six to 12. “It was a huge victory,” said Beale.

Atlas Corps also won $20,000 through another 2008 online contest from Ideablob, which was voted the “business idea” to succeed. The award allowed for the organization to add another fellow to the U.S. for a year.

Beale explained that part of the organization’s success with these online contests was creating strategies to leverage the most out of supporters. “I think the fundamentals are largely the same. We went out there and almost anyone who has donated to us in the past I asked to be a campaign captain. So rather than just say, ‘Will you give me $10 or $20,’ it’s ‘Can you go out there and find five to 10 people to give us $10,’” he said.

Beale said he also asked donors to join a “giving club” – agreeing to give $10 donations every day for five, 10 or all 30 days. “It’s being well organized to ask and to ask in a coherent way,” he said. These donors will receive special recognition and email reminders to give.

Beale said while the contests can turn some heads, nonprofits should recognize that it’s a lot of work and preparation. He compared online contests to putting together a telethon since it takes weeks to develop a strategy and constant updates. 

The first America’s Giving Challenge lasted 50 days, from Dec. 13, 2007 to Jan. 31, 2008, and raised nearly $1.8 million from more than 71,000 donors for U.S and international causes. The original Giving Challenge raised money on PARADE.com and Parade Magazine ($1,193,024) and on Facebook Causes ($571,686), in addition to partnerships with Network for Good and Global Giving.

During the last Challenge, causes with the highest number of unique donors received the awards from the Case Foundation, which matched both PARADE Magazine and the Causes challenges with a total $750,000.

Smith explained that he hoped the Challenge is the beginning for using technology to mobilize supporters toward action. He said that W.K. Kellogg Foundation joining in the Challenge shows there is a growing interest in leveraging technology and the social media fundraising sphere. Smith also said The Case Foundation was “really moved” by Kellogg partnering in the Challenge.

Smith hoped that online giving challenges became as common as “bake sales and car washes” in the near future.

For all results, visit http://www.causes.com/