Online Contests Represent Potential 'Jackpots' for Charities

The growing popularity of social media Web sites is creating opportunities for nonprofits to raise money through Web-based contests and causing them to consider new ways to use the Internet to fundraise, the New York Times reports.

Over the weekend, for example, visitors to the Target Corporation's Facebook page began voting for one of ten charities in the running to win a portion of the $3 million the retailer is making available for the contest, which lasts from May 10 to May 25. In recent years, companies such as Amazon.com and Trip Advisor have run similar contests, and in each of the past two years American Express has sponsored the Members Project, which gives cardholders the opportunity to propose charitable projects and vote for the one they think most deserves to win some of the company's money.

GlobalGiving, an online system through which donors can support charitable projects around the world, is in the middle of a contest that gives U.S. nonprofits the chance to win as much as $6,000 and a permanent berth on GlobalGiving's list of vetted programs. While raising awareness of the groups featured, the competition also provides an opportunity for GlobalGiving to expand its work in the United States.

Fundraising has also taken hold on Twitter. In April, actor Hugh Jackman challenged his followers on the microblogging site to explain in 140 characters or less why he should support their favorite charity, with the charity supported by the most convincing "tweet" winning $100,000 — a prize that, ultimately, was shared by two organizations, Operation of Hope and charity: water. Similarly, Bob Woodruff, the television reporter who sustained serious injuries in 2006 while covering the war in Iraq, will try to raise $1.65 million through Twitter over the Memorial Day weekend for his foundation, which aids injured service members and veterans.

"It's a national trend, not only in the philanthropic sector but also among businesses, to look at how best to leverage social media," Laysha Ward, Target's president of community relations, told the Times. "Contests like [ours] can help our nonprofit partners learn to use this new media to build not just financial resources but also awareness."

Stephanie Strom. "Charities Reap Benefits of Contests on Internet." New York Times 05/10/2009.