The Gamification of Giving

Spend time on Facebook each day?  Want to help your favorite charity?  You can now do both – simultaneously.  GamesThatGive (now owned by Facebook software company Vitrue), allows gamers the opportunity to support their favorite charities simply by playing online games.  The longer you play, the more money is donated by GamesThatGive.

For those who may not be aware of the specifics, here is how it works.  You play a GamesThatGive branded online game and GamesThatGive gives away 70% of the proceeds earned from ad revenue.  The amount you help raise for approved charities is determined by the amount of time you are on the site.  Needless to say, non-profits gladly steer donors to the gaming sites.  The ease of use and the quick return to non-profits make this gaming tactic very attractive.

But all that glitters isn’t necessarily gaming gold – or at least not the gold you really want.  While I understand the appeal of approaches like GamesThatGive, the concerns are significant.  Let me suggest two reasons why the gamification of giving may not be good for philanthropy and your institution.

  1. Gamification Doesn’t Educate Donors – Effective development professionals understand that our real work with donors is about educating more than it is asking.  Before we ever ask, we help donors better understand and appreciate the plight of those we serve and how, with their giving, we can serve better.  In addition, we work to educate our donors on the joys of giving!  Giving is good for people and part of our work is to encourage donors to be their best through the act of being generous.  The gamification of giving doesn’t give us much of a chance to do this educational work.
  2. Gamification Doesn’t Engage the Whole Donor – Of course, some might say the following:  ‘Well, maybe we don’t educate the donors with gaming, but it is free and easy gift income, so that’s not all bad.’  Perhaps. . . but it ain’t very good, either!  Is money all you really want from your donors?  Really?  The vast majority of institutions that engage our firm want far more from their donors.  And I bet you do, too.  Whether it’s to call prospective students and encourage their enrollment.  Or, participating in  a donor thank-a-thon.  Or serving on a committee.  Or helping with an event.  Or a host of other volunteer activities.  Effective development leaders recognize the need to engage much more of the whole person than simply the pocketbook.  Gaming doesn’t focus your donors on how they can enhance their engagement with your institution.  Gaming focuses your donors on gaming.

Every day new technologies and social media apps create fresh opportunities for philanthropy.  I am very supportive of thinking through new ways to engage donors.  But as we digest all of these new opportunities we should regularly reflect on the real purpose of our work.  If it were all about fundraising, then gaming might make more sense.  But there is a reason we refer to our work as “development.”

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