Posted , by Wesley Stanley, Marketing Director. Topic: Fundraising.

Online giving challenges are a growing trend among corporations these days and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great way for corporate entities to not only fulfill their philanthropic obligations but heavily market their brand while they’re at it. From a nonprofit’s standpoint this can certainly be an enticing opportunity; after all, how difficult could it be to get your loyal supporters to “like” your organization a handful of times on Facebook, in order to get a shot at a couple hundred thousand dollars? Not so fast—we’ve found that a lot more goes in to preparing for these types of challenges than meets the eye.

We heard from a nonprofit last week at the NC AFP Conference, who recently set their sights on a corporate online challenge grant. The organization’s staff wasn’t large enough for one individual to be assigned to the project, so multiple staff members ended up dedicating time to the effort. They worked diligently for months gathering support, creating a variety of marketing materials encouraging people to vote for the nonprofit. The organization invested in a Flip camera to record footage of their constituents in action to be submitted for the grant and even purchased an iPad so that individuals could vote for the organization on-site at special events.

After months of preparation, the nonprofit unfortunately found out that their efforts hadn’t paid off. How incredibly discouraging after having invested not only staff hours, but money and resources, not to mention two missed opportunities to apply. (Due to the competitive nature and popularity of the grant, applicants were required to submit their forms at midnight on a specific date — on several consecutive occasions the organization was unable to get their application through due to the outpouring of competing organizations trying to log on at the same time.)

There are certainly success stories out there, like Hampton Roads’ own Norfolk Botanical Garden who was recently awarded a $125,000 grant from the Chase Community Giving philanthropic program, after they received more than 12,000 votes on various Facebook pages. But it’s important to keep in mind that for every one nonprofit who is awarded a grant like this there are likely thousands who went to a lot of effort for no return whatsoever. So, if you are considering applying for an online challenge grant from a large corporation, remember the case of the organization mentioned above, especially if you are a small nonprofit with limited staff. If you feel that your organization is capable of maintaining the momentum required to gather enough support to make yourself eligible, consider developing a marketing plan before you begin. Be sure to take into consideration exactly how much time will be required of your staff and how much money will need to be invested to market your organization. Also, keep in mind that even if your plans are perfectly executed, the chances of your organization winning are relatively slim.

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