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.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.