Why You Need to Game Your Supporters | npENGAGE

Why You Need to Game Your Supporters

By on Sep 13, 2011


Gamification for Nonprofits

This is a guest post by Jesse Noyes. He’s a Corporate Reporter at Eloqua. Make sure to follow him on Twitter at @noyesjesse and check out the Eloqua blog – they’re doing some great things!

Gamification for NonprofitsMaybe you’re satisfied with your communications strategy.Perhaps your nonprofit was recently featured on TV or saluted in the local newspaper. Maybe you just won a prestigious award and issued a press release. You might be proud of your custom Facebook page and how many people follow you on Twitter.

If so, then you probably won’t like what I’m about to say.

There’s a communications medium far too many nonprofits neglect: Gaming.

     “Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium,”

… pronounced Al Gore, the former Vice President and presenter of perhaps the most watched PowerPoint ever, at the Games for Change conference.

Seth Priebatsch, the founder of SCVNGR, declared that a …

     “game layer” is forming on top of what we dully term “reality.”

And Jane McGonigal has argued that the energy put into games can be collectively harnessed to solve the world’s biggest issues.

Games are maturing fast

Game play is becoming a part of our daily lives, whether that involves planting crops on Facebook or just the subtle use of game mechanics marketers employ to lure us to their products and services. There’s even a term for this trend: Gamification.

Far too often, gaming is dismissed as trivial, something teenagers do while sitting on the couch. Nonprofits might be especially vulnerable to this perfunctory treatment since many suffer from what Katya Andresen calls a missionary mentality.

Don’t fall prey to a dismissive mentality

Nonprofits are uniquely qualified to use gaming to deepen relationships with their donors, volunteers and even clients.

Whether your nonprofit is addressing more recent issues like the digital divide or societal ills as old as hunger, your mission can feel Herculean, even impossible. As a recent episode of RadioLab pointed out, there are more possibilities within the limited field of play of a chess game than there are atoms in the universe.

In other words, games make even the seemingly impossible feel possible.

Education and collaboration

Additionally, games foster education and collaboration. The deeper we delve into a game, the better we understand the mechanics governing it. And we feel a tighter connection to our teammates. In the nonprofit world, games can strengthen the resolve of your supporters and staff by making a common, achievable goal more visceral. As Al Gore put it,

     “cooperation beats out competition.”

Gamification Evolution

As gamification evolves beyond badges and avatars, nonprofits can institute game play to tell their story in a moving and convincing way. And I’m not saying some nonprofits aren’t already embracing the medium. The United Nations Foundation made the massive health issue of malaria in Africa accessible with its easy-to-use Nothing But Nets game. And I believe voters would be better educated if we all played American Public Media’s Budget Hero.

The cost of entry is low

You also don’t need to spend your entire marketing budget on a game designer. As a recent Wired article pointed out, major brands use game mechanics such as “beating the clock” and reciprocity to compel us to buy.  By incorporating game mechanics to your social media presence, you make it easier for supporters to share the hour they just spent stocking shelves at the food bank or see how their small donation of $20 advances a communal goal.

Bottom line: games connect your supporters and push them to act in a way no newsletter or static Facebook page can.

Nonprofits cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of the gamification movement. They need to start “gaming” their supporters now.

Your turn

Where have you seen game mechanics used effectively?



Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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