Gamification: Easy to Screw Up
Gamification, as a "thing," just happened to peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising only a few years ago. What really happened is that the word was created, not the thing itself.
The best overview of gamification I found was in Blackbaud’s "Drab to Fab: Peer to Peer Event Makeover." This rundown of what’s new in P2P details gamification in brilliant fashion:
The heart of gamification is to create an ongoing experience that drives engagement, recognizes results and inspires forward movement. Ideally you will repeat this experience over and over again throughout your relationship with the fundraiser.
Various tools are used to drive behavior in gamification: badges, progress bars, fundraising status, gifts, leaderboards, levels/tiers and selective personalized communications.
These tools are deployed in an escalating fashion to drive behavior toward a desired goal, in this case fundraising for your nonprofit.
Vickie LoBello, who speaks from more than 25 years of experience at St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, says, “Gamification can work well if done well, but there are ways gamification design can hurt your nonprofit’s effort.”
Vickie, now a consultant with Turnkey and currently in the hapless circumstance of being on business travel with me when I am on deadline for a blog, goes on to say, “The problem with gamification is that often it turns into a pay for play system, rewarding fundraisers for behaviors, instead of reinforcing in fundraisers the idea that they love fundraising for their nonprofit.”
We are at breakfast, prior to an all day client meeting. Vickie eyes her bagel. I say, “Focus Vickie!” I continue to drill her with questions about gamification.
We talked about various examples we had seen recently, and without naming names, she noted that often nonprofits offer lovely gifts and exciting experiences (think airline tickets and trips to exotic places) in exchange for fundraising, as part of the gamification system.
This unfortunate gift selection reinforces to the fundraiser that the reason they fundraise is to get the gift, not because of an attachment to the nonprofit.
Gamification, in its best form, reinforces the idea that “I like doing this,” whatever “this” is, with engagement strategies that are A) fun and B) interactive. The fundraiser who feels seen through these engagement strategies reacts more often in positive ways.
Yes Vickie, now you can eat breakfast.
Otis spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has degrees in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and The University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.