Hold a contest, build your community

Everyone likes to win something.

And even when you don't win, you probably like to play (think sweepstakes, PowerBall and trivia nights).

Now a new study from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows how contests can actually improve philanthropy — and expand your community.

Knight President & CEO Alberto Ibarguën says:

Contests are a wonderful device for engaging the imagination of communities.

Knight offers six lessons about how contests can boost your "community:"

  1. "Contests bring in new blood and new ideas" by exposing your organization to new people and new thinking.
  2. "Contests create value beyond the winners." Most people will never enter a contest, but Knight suggests that just by holding the contest — and having people experience it, even from the sidelines — non-profits can engender more engagement and, ultimately, support.
  3. "Contests help you spot emerging trends." One example is the emergence of data journalism and the importance of mobile apps, which came from Knight's News Challenge.
  4. "Contests will change your routine" by looking beyond traditional audiences and funding sources and allowing you to "experiment" with your brand.
  5. "Contests go hand in glove with existing program strategies" by building on existing community priorities and even kickstarting areas where your traditional efforts have fallen flat.
  6. "Contests should thoughtfully engage the community." This is probably the most important because you can engage your community to judge your contest — and that is both empowering and engaging!

But remember, as with everything, don't just do it to try something new — make sure it is part of a broad and well-considered strategy. 

Knight's best advice:

Foundations shouldn’t undertake a contest as a lark or a just-for-the-heck-of-it enterprise. The most successful are embedded in existing program strategies. They are simply a different way to tackle a foundation’s key areas of focus. 

Download and read the study: "Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Public Prizes for Impact.”


Keep your non-profit off this list

America loves lists — especially bests and worsts. We also love to support worthy causes.

Before you give, make sure the charity or cause is doing the work you expect it to.

The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting recently published "America's Worst Charities," a colossal reporting project that looks at how much donated money actually goes into a charity's mission. In some cases, charities that raised millions devoted less than 1 percent to the stated cause.

The result is some impressive investigative journalism that could only be done in today's "big data" era. It includes two deep and searchable databases.