When ‘Philanthropy’ Exploits

Strengthening communities…

Enriching lives…

Protecting our planet…

Philanthropy has a major role to play in shaping our society into the one we envision. Many non-profits rely on individual and corporate contributions to effectively advance their missions.

There is; however, a damaging practice that can fall under the umbrella of philanthropy, though it really doesn’t deserve the designation:

Companies leveraging non-profits’ unique ability to engage with people for the chance to win a cash (or maybe not even cash) prize.

You’ve seen it, and maybe you’ve helped your favorite non-profit by voting (kudos). It’s the Facebook contest that has you liking, sharing and commenting on a post while naming the organization who gets your vote. Or, it’s going to a website one, two, three or more times per day over the course of weeks to cast your vote for your favorite charity.

Personally, I don’t have a problem being asked to cast my vote. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I’m not going to silence a non-profit on social media because they ask me. I wait it out. But, plenty of others don’t. Plenty of followers will get annoyed at irrelevant content.

Side note: Facebook does see this as a problem and is much less likely to show posts that ask for engagement than authentically-engaging content. 

Spending your non-profit social capital on a third party

The real problem is the exploitation of this whole practice. Companies are looking to grow their social media or boost their website visits (translating into larger ad revenue) on the backs of incredibly noble organizations. Organizations that don’t exactly have an abundance of communications resources laying around to dedicate to third-party promotion.

Social media, done right, is expensive. Whether in dollars or in human resources, it costs non-profits to promote content on their channels. It also distracts that non-profit’s supporters from engaging in a way that is meaningful.

I mention Social Exchange Theory in my article about the downsides of AmazonSmile. Basically, it means you could be giving your supporters a false sense of doing enough by voting, or by sharing. You could be cashing in their goodwill on a vote rather than a donation or a social share of something that truly represents who you are.

Non-profits as influencers

These contests are actually influencer marketing – practically free influencer marketing for the host company. Influencer marketing is a billion dollar industry and growing. The Kardashians can make as much as $1 million per post on Instagram.

One. Million. Dollars. Per Post! Companies pay big bucks for the chance to put themselves in front of someone else’s audience.

Or, they offer a prize that will go to a select few while putting themselves in front of dozens or more non-profits’ audiences.

It’s not always intentional. Often, a marketing coordinator sees these contests and just thinks they look like mutually-beneficial fun. It fits into the narrative that social media and community engagement are free. Through this lens, the sponsoring company may not understand they are tossing an expense at non-profits. But, they are.

Authentic partnerships for the win

I see no problem with companies finding a way to earn a marketing nod in exchange for their donation. A win-win works better for both sides anyway, and it certainly establishes a more stable long-term relationship.

But, how about coming together to brainstorm creative ideas for marketing?…

Partnering with a media outlet to promote the partnership…

Offering to share on social media, heart-felt messages from representatives of the sponsoring company about why they and the non-profit have come together…

Non-profits can lead these discussions. They can think about how they benefit from and contribute to a corporate partnership and approach it strategically.

And, when the next contest comes up, non-profits can evaluate if the prize and the chance of winning it are worth what they’re spending to participate.

Go in with eyes-open. It isn’t a free entry.






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