Gamification: Incentivize Your Constituents to Act
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"Gamification" is one of those buzzwords that makes its way around the nonprofit and marketing worlds every so often. Maybe you've thought about it before. Maybe it sounds too complicated. Or, maybe you heard about it at a conference a couple years ago and dismissed it as a passing fad. Yet, gamification doesn't need to just be a buzzword, and it doesn't need to be something big and complicated. It should simply be a tool in your marketing arsenal to buoy constituent behavior through incentives.
Back when gamification was first starting to be discussed, many organizations thought they needed to take a cue from popular mobile apps like Foursquare and create complex systems of badges and levels, perhaps in a custom member center, or even develop their own mobile apps. There are subtler examples of gamification that are far easier to implement, however, and they can improve your results much more clearly.
Have you ever been driven to do something just to feel like you've "finished" it? Or, to feel like you're in a group of "top performers"? There are elements of gamification embedded in many of the things we do every day, especially online.
Have you felt compelled to complete your profile in a new app or website after it tells you you're "80% finished"? Or, do more of a particular activity to move up a virtual "leaderboard"? Just recently, I was playing a mobile trivia game, and it told me I was in the top 10 in my area in a particular category. I wasn't even interested in that category — I was only playing it to unlock a particular badge — but suddenly I was invested. Who cares if very few people in my area were likely using the app at that moment or if minutes before I'd been bored with the game? I now had a ranking to protect!
Nonprofits can use these common impulses without building an entire gaming ecosystem. Activities as simple as displaying a thermometer to show how close you are to achieving a fundraising goal tap in to people's desire to "complete" objectives and be among "the best." So, too, do leaderboards showing "top fundraisers" in peer-to-peer platforms and use of regional language such as "63 people in [your city] have had their gifts matched." If you have the capability to use these kinds of techniques to help make your donors feel like your goals are their goals, they're great things to test.
You also can use these techniques to improve your advocacy results. Once constituents have taken one of your actions, show them the rest of the actions on that topic that they could complete. Show them the number of actions until they've "completed" all of them. Tell them where they rank across your entire list of supporters.
Giving supporters a "ranking" can be a great way to encourage extra action, but be careful not to offend anyone with a low ranking. Make top-ranking supporters feel great for being so active on behalf of your organization; it will make them want to continue to support you. But don't make less active users feel bad for the actions they haven't taken — this is one time in direct marketing that guilt works against us. Simply tell them how great it is to take more actions and how much those actions help the cause they support — and make it easy for them to act.
There are many elements to a successful game: an activity that people want to do, a way to make them feel good for spending time on it, rewards for spending that time and more. Good nonprofits already try their best to make their users feel good for their support, and they communicate smartly with those users so they come back to give more money and take more action on behalf of the cause.
Adding game elements to your marketing, when used judiciously, can be a great tool in your arsenal. Everyone likes to be rewarded for their efforts. For example: Congratulations! You've finished this article. But 15 people in your area have finished the rest of the pieces in this newsletter …
Daniel Atherton is digital analytics and optimization coordinator in the interactive department of Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey, a full-service direct marketing firm serving global nonprofit organizations. Reach him at email@example.com