Gamification and the Arts, Part Four: When Fundraising, Winners Give More

Note: This post is the final piece of a four part series by guest blogger Alli Houseworth. The series explores the strategy of gamification and how it can be applied to the arts. You can find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

As it turns out, we’ve been using gamification strategies in fundraising for years. If you go back and reference this list, you’ll see a bunch of very familiar terms that apply to fundraising for non-profits: bonuses, levels, countdowns, status, epic meanings, and envy (“How did they get those seats…?!”; “I want to have my pre-show drink in that lounge!”). Although we’ve used these gamification strategies unconsciously in “traditional” fundraising for years, the strategies have become more and more crucial to the success of more “non-traditional” fundraising campaigns (online, small-gift campaigns) in recent years.

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the online fundraising giants so we can greater understand the application of gamification in e-giving, and point to some ideas that could be helpful to you and your organization next time you launch a fundraising campaign:

1. Kickstarter

Launched in 2009, Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding platform for creative projects. A project’s success (being funded) is gauged by whether or not a community comes together to fund it. If a project’s community comes together and pledges to donate the funds needed –or “kick start”– the project, then each community member’s credit cards are charged in the amount they pledged to give. And, if the community doesn’t come together then no one’s credit card is charged and the project doesn’t get off the ground.

2. Crowdrise

Crowdrise, another online fundraising platform, is centered around the idea of empowering an individual to raise funds on behalf of a charity. Think of it in a “help me help X organization” sort of way. The gamification strategies behind Crowdrise are chosen to both leverage the power of the individual and to reward the individual. A person who joins Crowdrise can earn points by accomplishing various tasks (achievements), and the points can be redeemed for rewards. If you earn enough points you can be deemed Crowdrise royalty. All royalty are designated based on a tier system: you need 200,000+ to be a Tsar, 500,000+ to be a Baron, and so on. As a fundraiser you can also win crests (badges). All of these strategies are designed to motivate you to raise more money for projects and charities. As an added bonus, their language is super funny, so check them out.

3. Give to the Max Day

One-day community-wide fundraising events like Give to the Max Day (check out DC and Minnesota) are becoming more and more common, and the PR effect is wonderful for any non-profit organization in the community. The folks behind Give to the Max Day layer in gamification strategies to their large campaign and reward organizations who meet certain benchmarks on the selected day of giving: those who have the most donors overall, those with operating budgets under $1 million that have the most donors (tiers), and those who have the most donors within a certain hour (the countdown strategy). In the end everyone wins, whether they get a bonus reward or not. Additionally, the PR weight of Give to the Max Day helps the public understand that donating to non-profits is cool, important, and crucial to any thriving healthy community.

The common thread we see woven through each of these examples is that by applying gamification strategies to online fundraising, you motivate individuals to give more money. So, looking back at our list of gamification strategies, what are some “what ifs” can we come up with to freshen-up fundraising for the arts?

What if: Instead of matching grants, a donor agreed to give you $1,000 for every 20 new donors you secured through an online giving campaign, then $2,000 for the next 10, then $3,000 for the next five? (Progression Theory)

What if: Someone agreed to donate something to your organization and placed three options behind different doors (the door #1, door #2, door #3 game) and your audience had to vote on what door was opened? (Lottery Theory)

What if: You have to raise the entire production budget for a show in one week’s time or the show gets cancelled? (Countdown Theory… and terrifying!)

Individuals are responding to game theory and practices more actively the more we progress into the digital age. As stated in previous posts, gamification strategies are not new, especially not in the fundraising arena. They are all based on fundamental elements of human psychology. As this is my last blog post in this series, I’d like to encourage each of you to try to apply at least one gamification principle to one fundraising or marketing campaign you have coming up in 2013 and, of course, let me know how it goes!

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