By Tucker Shouse.  

This is the first blog post in a three-part series to disseminate our findings and learnings from the 2015 #MyGivingStory initiative. The pilot contest, run by 92nd Street Y and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asked everyday givers to respond in 200 or more words: “what nonprofit organization inspires you to give and why?”  The second post can be found here.  Here’s what we learned:

In November of 2015, 16,000 unique visitors stumbled upon a Facebook offer page with the following prompt: “what nonprofit organization inspires you to give and why?” Within the month, over 800 people responded with a story, an optional photo, and a link to the nonprofit that inspired them, and they were encouraged to share their story online and offline. The top 15 stories based on the number of votes moved on to a final round of judging* in which six nonprofit organizations would receive grants from $5,000 - $1,000 USD.

By the end of the contest, the 800+ stories received more than 82,000 votes and 180,000 views from individuals both within and outside of the original posters’ network. And while these numbers far surpassed the pilot goals of 200, 1,000, and 10,000 respectively, the compassionate storytelling that was shared both globally and locally far outweighed any data targets. The final winning stories featured: The Karam Foundation, Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation, KultureCity, Selamta Family Project, Timbali Crafts, and NorCal Bully Breed Rescue.  

Why this matters and why try a “storytelling contest?” Since the 70’s, charitable giving has remained at 2% of the US’ GDP with the average household giving 3.6% of their annual income. While 75% of these households believe that they donate more than the average, in reality 72% contribute below the individual household income rate of 3.6% (Money4Good, 2015). Furthermore, the median household giving is estimated to be a mere 0.4%. Just as a large majority of people think they are a better than the average driver, it follows that a large majority of donors think they give more than their peers.

But charitable giving isn’t about how much you give, and a host of social and economic factors can prevent individuals from giving both their time and resources to the extent they would like. Giving is personal, and it’s tied into the social fabric of where we live, who we give to, how much, and how often. Many donors rarely engage in public conversations perhaps due to the fear of public misperceptions or social stigma.

With these macro-trends in place, a small team at the 92nd Street Y and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wanted to test the concept of a story-telling contest. The team believed that sharing stories publicly would encourage a larger conversation about what organizations people are giving to and hopefully inspire others to give more in whatever way they can. The contest was labeled a “minimum viable contest” because there were numerous concerns of how open individuals may be with sharing a personal giving story.  

Process and Results The results and the individual stories, however, blew the team away. The contest received submissions for over 492 registered nonprofits in 47 states which were verified with some help from Guidestar (explore the visual below here).

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After the contest was over, the team wanted to see if there were any trends that would be relevant to share. And while the next two posts will dive into that analysis, the following three data points are helpful in understanding the larger narrative:

  • 79% of votes were driven by an individual’s personal network as compared to a global voting page
  • 57% of verified nonprofits with publicly available revenue had less than $2M USD
  • The average votes per story was 95, but the median was 8

And while an average of 95 votes per story sounds great, the fact that the median number of votes was only 8 parallels the differences between the average (3.6%) and median (0.4%) amount of household giving. In the select set that the team read, many incredible stories failed to reach a high number of votes that they deserved. How a story performed varied due to a variety of factors, and not every story garnered the attention that it was due.

However, small nonprofits have an opportunity to raise above the noise if they encourage and appropriately engage in social story telling. It’s not easy, and there are many trade-offs that need to be considered, but the demand for locally relevant story-telling about giving exists.

Next steps: continuing the conversation on GreatNonProfits.org

While the contest submissions are no longer accessible, GreatNonProfits.org was able to upload a large majority of the verified stories to their website where submitters are encouraged to update their information and submission. The following two blog posts in this series will dive deeper into the data and insights relevant for nonprofit organizations and the larger ecosystem that supports them.

Because this was a pilot, the teams at 92nd Street Y and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will continue to think about how this contest could be improved and expanded for 2016. If you have any thoughts, positive or negative, about the 2015 contest, please feel free to reach out on twitter with the #MyGivingStory and provide your feedback.

*Thank you to the judges Greg Bladwin (VolunteerMatch), Beth Kanter, Peter Koechly (Upworthy), and Perla Ni (GreatNonProfits) for your time and support