Game mechanics for non-profits

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A while ago on Marketing Over Coffee and other places we discussed the SCVNGR game mechanics deck, a deck of cards with different mechanisms that stimulate human behavioral patterns. While marketers are more than happy to jump all over these methods, it’s well worth considering for marketing more useful things, like non-profit donations.

The World of Warcraft Armory - Moriturus @ Arathor - Achievements

Let’s take a look at just a few mechanics and how a non-profit might be able to make use of them.

Progression Dynamics. Non-profits for a long time have had statuses such as donor levels, but they’re uncreatively used. At best, a donor level is listed in a brochure or program guide, and maybe the top achievers (donors) get a shout-out at an organizational event. This is the age of social! Make those levels public and spreadable! Imagine how simple it would be for an organization to post as a Facebook status or tweet every donation (for those who didn’t want to remain anonymous) along with thanks and donation level.

Example: “Thanks @cspenn for donating! You’ve reached donor level 23! Only $230 left until level 24!”

Badges. Coupled with progression levels, badges (from locations earned in Foursquare to Achievements in WoW) are an equally potent way to recognize people. Most organizations recognize large donors or longtime donors and stop there. Get creative! Badges don’t cost you a thing – make as many as you can and hand them out with great frequency, very publicly, to take advantage of the habit that people tend to collect damn near anything you put in front of them.

Example: “Congrats @cspenn for earning the Fastest Donor badge! You donated within 60 seconds of our tweet!”

Leaderboards. The only thing better than being in a progression guild in Warcraft is being listed in a progression guild in all the major guild leaderboards. People love to show off their status. Take advantage of this simple social mechanic in your community and publish a leaderboard, and make leaderboards for more than just one mechanic. For example, you have top donors, which is of course useful, but what about top social sharers, folks who might have more time than money? What about top referrals to your web site? What about top networkers who bring new people to your Facebook page? Find ways to implement leaderboards for all the metrics that matter to you and publish them to encourage people to compete!

Example: “Hey @cspenn! You just reached #23 in the Social Leaderboard! Keep telling people about us!”

Groups. Farmville would be fairly boring without other people. Warcraft would be equally flat without guilds to join of like-minded players. Do you encourage your constituents to network just with you, or do you help them network with each other? Create reasons for teams, guilds, groups, or other gatherings virtually or in real life of people who might gain something from each other, and have them compete for the above listed progressions, badges, and leaderboards as groups.

Example: “Hey @cspenn! Your guild, Unifying Force, is now in the top 20 donor guilds! Congrats!”

Take a look at the SCVNGR deck and figure out how you can work one or more game mechanics into your non-profit organization’s structure. Most of the mechanics will require little or no money and can encourage exactly the kind of behavior you want from your audience – and let them have some fun at it, too.

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3 responses to “Game mechanics for non-profits”

  1. This is a technique that will work with a certain population. It may offend others. Planning your fund raising process is as important as execution. Good ideas in the boardroom will often be dismal in the light of day.

  2. So…..a series of “attaboys” will help the non-profits get more donations? Is that what really makes people donate? Or are you just saying thank-you after they have donated? Hmmm, maybe in trying to get more donations they can do the incremental thing and say things like “only 3 more donations are needed to be able to feed another 20 cats at the shelter – kitties need kibbles too!” or something like that…..You are probably right that non-profits are missing out in the whole social media spectrum. And things are tight for non-profits for sure! Don’t know if the whole “you’re a winner today” thing is the right angle for certain non-profits dealing with bad issues……interesting article.

  3. I agree with your addition of game mechanics to something not normally associated with “gaming”. This is quickly becoming known as gamification. ACS is already doing this to some extent. When I donated to my friends ACS relay for life I was immediately shown in their scrolling “leaderboard”. I agree with you though, there are so many more things that companies could be doing when it comes to game mechanics to help encourage their key business objectives.

    @Janet Rossi I agree that the “game” needs to be in context. “Leveling up” by saving x number of cats and then subsequently sharing with your social graph is what may entice more donations. I think its a combination of the game mechanic with the social aspect.

    @chuck Simmins I agree with you too, but I think it should be an iterative process. The gamification space is so new that it’s hard to definitively say what works/doesn’t work and in what context, but should be at least tested.

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