Game on: Charities toy with new ideas for online engagement

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You’ve may have noticed that the concept of "Gamification” is a hot topic in the technology community. What is it really, and what does it mean for charities and nonprofits?

Gamified experiences use game-playing techniques to engage users and encourage specific activities. A typical example of gamification might involve gathering reward points, achieving increasingly higher levels, or solving puzzles to unlock new challenges. One well-known example is the geo-location application Foursquare, where users earn badges and virtual rewards for "check-ins” online.

Some charities have joined the trend by partnering with a corporate sponsor to co-brand a web or mobile game, or by building their own. Advocacy, raising awareness, and membership-building are only a few of the possible social good objectives for games like these.

Can gamification apply to projects where fundraising is the major objective? Of course! Many elements of gamification are not at all new to traditional fundraising. We're all familiar with the effects of using well-planned incentive levels or rewards to enhance a campaign experience. One of the risks charities can face when building gamified online campaigns is the possibility of burying the opportunity to donate under a wealth of other options for users. Sometimes the call-to-action to donate can become lost in a complex game.

Here are three organizations that have mixed a few gamification elements into a fundraising project without losing sight of the primary objective.

BBC Children in Need: Fancy a spot of cake?

BBC Children in Need is a UK corporate charity that grants funds to programs making a difference in the lives of children. As part of their 2011 appeal, they are leveraging the interactive properties of Facebook to build the "biggest ever digital supercake”. The cake grows taller as more money is donated through the Facebook application. For a donation of £1, £5, £10 or more, Facebook fans can contribute to the supercake by adding layers, icing, pillars, decorations, and even a tiny Pudsey (the charity's famous mascot bear).

A donor's Facebook icon and name is added to their customized cake layer. As the super-cake grows throughout November, new layer flavours, celebrity messages and videos will be revealed for participants to enjoy.

UNICEF USA: Costume Party

The UNICEF Costume Creator is a Halloween game with a focus on user personalization. Supporters can upload a personal photo to the UNICEF Costume Party website and try on spooky or silly virtual Halloween costumes.

The costumes can be accessorized with unique filters at different donation levels. The more you donate, the more options you can unlock to play dress up with.

The finished costumes are added to the website's gallery and donors have the option to share their creation with friends through email, download it to keep, or post it on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign also encourages users to start their own virtual fundraiser on behalf of UNICEF.

World Vision Australia: 40 Hour Famine

World Vision Australia’s 40 Hour Famine supports projects fighting hunger in the developing world. Students and groups register online to commit to giving up food or something else that matters to them for 40 hours.

40 Hour Famine participants earn virtual badges on their personal fundraising pages for reaching goals, referring friends, sharing fundraising ideas, signing-up others, passing quizzes and more.

The super hero theme encourages fundraisers to pass through Recruit, Apprentice, and Junior colour levels. The game elements in this campaign add a fresh perspective to a traditional peer-to-peer challenge.

Have any of the gamification components in these examples inspired an idea for your next social media fundraising project? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Claire Kerr is the director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. A nonprofit veteran, Claire has worked for charitable organizations in the economic development, education, and fundraising sectors. Connect with her on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or in person over a double-double at Tim Hortons.

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