Lessons from America’s Giving Challenge

America's Giving Challenge

Download the America's Giving Challenge report from www.casefoundation.org

In 2007 the Case Foundation sponsored two distinct charity drives across two very different platforms, in part I suspect to change the top-down charity model to one of partnership and engagement and also to stress-test the emerging socialweb as a platform for carrying out its philanthropic interests.

In June they released a report on what they learned, titled America’s Giving Challenge: Assessment and Reflection Report. Written by socialmedia guru Beth Kanter – also one of the Challenge’s winners – and tech expert Allison Fine of Demos.org, its a pretty straightforward head-to-head comparison of the performance of both approaches.

On the one hand, Case launched America’s Giving Challenge with PARADE Magazine and through parade.com, an example of a mainstream publishing giant adapting to a new Internet reality. The second challenge, the Causes Giving Challenge, was run through Facebook, one of the most popular social networks on the web.

Both Challenges performed incredibly well, though in very different ways. As the report states, “America’s Giving Challenge raised $1,193,024 from 46,044 donors for 2,482 causes. The Causes Giving Challenge raised a total of $571,686 from 25,795 unique donors for 3,936 causes.” In other words, a Challenge backed by a massive print media reach performed three times as will in terms of funds raised, but for fewer causes supported by less than double (44%) of the number of donors. Interesting results. What is not reported was the individual and combined cost of raising $1.75m and how much each individual campaign cost relative to how much the Foundation gave away at the end of the day (if my math is correct, $500,000 through America’s Giving Challenge and $250,000 through the Causes Giving Challenge). What’s interesting in the report are some of the lessons, and their implications for how we might set up the Global Challenge. The biggest lesson for me however, which was left unexplored or unreported, is the massive attention drawn to a range of issues people care about, and the range of solutions proposed. What the authors provide is a breakdown of cause “type,” from international aid and relief efforts (20% of entries) to fighting crime (3% of entries). Here are some of their other lessons:

  • Give more lead time and shorten the length of the challenge (from say 50 to 30 days)
  • Streamline the event with one name and one platform
  • Improve donation software eg nonprofit access, payment options, widgets
  • Provide additional technical assistance in the form of a wiki or Twitter account

The recommendations, drawn from survey feedback and participant interviews, complement a set of themes or “findings” discussed in the report that I found interesting, particularly:

  • More than 50% of causes with 101-150 donors had champions that spent 5-9 hours(week??) promoting the cause (80% of causes with less than 50 donors spent fewer than 5 hours promoting the cause). This suggests a highly “immersive” social giving campaign
  • High levels of donations and WOM support (60-80 percent) came from friends and family (not unlike the bulk of entrepreneurial finance – friends, fools and family)
  • Interestingly, smaller organizations and all-volunteer efforts tended to be more successful than large organizations ( > $1m budget): 11 of the 16 champions fit this description.

There’s lots of other good insights in the report. Check it out online at the Case Foundation website, where survey results are also available. I’ll look forward to seeing how these findings and recommendations affect the future Giving Challenges. (And, if anyone has insights into the “cost of giving away $750,000″ do let me know. The fact that $750,000 was leveraged to raise an additional $1.7m is impressive if the costs can be contained over time – its one of the key challenges I’m sure we’ll face as we develop the Global Challenge).

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