Questioning prize philanthropy


Questioning prize philanthropy: Prize philanthropy has become en vogue of late, as major corporations have offered large sums of cash in high-profile contests designed to engage consumers by highlighting nonprofit work.

Chase bank’s Chase Giving Challenge and Pepsi’s monthly Pepsi Refresh campaign have given away millions of dollars to nonprofits by engaging them in contests to see which can get the most online votes from their supporters.

Google, through its Lunar X challenge, is offering the most significant cash prize — $20 million to the team that can successfully land a robot on the moon, have it travel 500 meters and send photos back to earth. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a story with a list and description of some of the more interesting prizes now up for grabs. (The article is for Chronicle subscribers only, but the publication has made it available for free to Fundermentalist readers.)

The Jewish world certainly has caught onto the act, be it the long-running Covenant Award for innovative Jewish education, to the Jewish Federations of North America’s recent online Jewish Community Heroes Award, to the Charles Bronfman Prize. Plus there is the still unsubstantiated talk that the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Jewish Agency are discussing the creation of a $1 million Nobel-type prize.

While the prizes seem to be great for nonprofits seeking a quick infusion of cash, some have debated whether the contests — especially those based on soliciting online votes —  can become distractions, as the Chronicle wrote in another recent story that the publication also made available to our readers.

Writes The Chronicle:

Some critics say the online fund-raising contests can distract charity executives and exhaust a charity’s supporters and may not be worth the time they require.

Achieve, a fund-raising consulting company in Indianapolis, noted in its May newsletter that contests can raise a charity’s profile and drive traffic to its Web site.

But the company, which based its findings on an analysis of an unnamed charity’s experience in a contest, also found a slew of negatives: The charity dropped everything else and became consumed with the contest. It lost track of the message it had hoped to communicate to donors in its crazed bid for more votes. And it blew a chance to land long-term donors by failing to follow up with the voters who supported the charity.

Some donors, according to the company, got so fed up with the constant messages they received from the charity that they canceled their subscriptions to the charity’s e-mail messages. 

Those involved in the Bronfman prize, though, saw nothing but positives, especially from the public relations standpoint.

“The idea of the prize is just elevating the project,” Stephen Bronfman, who helped establish the prize to honor his father, told The Fundermentalist. “There are great prizes out there in the world — the Goldman Prize, all these wonderful prizes. Instead of just getting a grant, a prize is a testament to the strength of the project. You are a star.”

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