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Gamification in fundraising


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Gamification in fundraising

Julian Lomas

What is gamification?

I know, it’s a horrible word (invented in 2002) that should be consigned to the lexicographer’s dustbin! But it is used more and more in society and in fundraising. What does it mean?

In short, it’s about how to make mundane activities more engaging by turning them into games. You might say it’s about releasing your inner toddler.

It’s a concept that has become common place in areas of life such as exercise. For example, rowing machines can be really dull, but if you can catch gremlins by rowing at a the right speed to get the trap onto the right row of the screen, then it becomes interesting; how many gremlins can I catch in a 15 minute workout?

Gamification is mercilessly exploited by just about every wearable fitness monitor on the market; setting daily steps targets, weekly challenges, beating records and so on, with rewards such as halls of fame, leaderboards or virtual stickers/badges that have absolutely no intrinsic value at all.

Some versions of gamification introduce tangible rewards, such as the points you collect on your store loyalty cards or credit cards that have real cash or cash-equivalent value.

What makes gamification work?

There’s an increasing research evidence base for the psychology behind gamification. what works and what doesn’t etc. To make it work you need to get three key elements to converge (to happen at the same time:

  1. Users feeling motivated, e.g. by the possibility of reward.

  2. Users believing that they have the ability to accomplish the task.

  3. Creating triggers for users to complete key actions (e.g. by asking/prompting them to do so).

Introduce gamification to your fundraising

While there have been elements of gamification in fundraising for decades (setting targets for fundraising or for physical challenges), it’s an approach that has really started to take off in the last few years, particularly to reinvigorate some old ideas.

Take the Cycling Down Dementia challenge run by Alzheimer’s Research UK, for example. At one level it’s a simple winter cycling challenge; a target of 300 or 1000 miles to be cycled over three winter months, please sponsor me (yes, please sponsor me because I am doing this one myself, just click here for my sponsorship page). By introducing league tables of the top 10 fundraisers and the top 10 cyclists (in terms of distance travelled) and by offering freebies if certain targets are met, it becomes more engaging and pushes participants to try harder. The fundraising page even includes functionality to show the routes you have cycled with distances and times so your supporters can see you really are doing it.

Simple tools like these, or even just including a progress bar or counter on your fundraising page, can really motivate people to help you meet your fundraising goal. Introducing competition between fundraisers or teams (when done right) can increase donations and the sense of fun for participants. For corporates the chance to have the company name on the leaderboard for a little extra publicity never hurts. You can even create virtual teams amongst participants who have never met each other.

Of course these ideas aren’t new, there’s no difference between the online progress bar and the thermometer coloured in by the vicar as the church roof appeal inches towards its fundraising goal, it’s just that psychologists have recently called is gamification!

Perhaps more significantly, the advent of social media in the last decade offers a really powerful way to magnify the effect of gamification on both donor and participant motivation. You can even offer rewards (points/badges etc) for social media sharing. Incorporating social sharing into the competitive or challenge/reward elements of fundraising encourages people to reach out into their social networks, which in turn can bring in more donations and increase the publicity value of challenge fundraising. It can also help build a sense of community amongst participants and beyond.

The downsides to gamification

A few words of warning about the drawbacks:

  • Over-gamification can distort motives, taking your audiences’ focus away from your cause to focus too much on the game/rewards.

  • Too much competition can lead to aggression and poor behaviour from some participants; care is needed to find the right balance.

  • Keep it as simple as possible, or at least make sure that the costs of complexity are justified by the increased income and/or publicity. It is worth including some metrics into your campaign such as page visits/views, clicks, new users, etc. to check that your approach is engaging people better (and not turning them off).

  • You also need to be careful about offering rewards that have a real monetary value. That can turn off donors (for example if they feel the person doing the challenge is only doing it for the freebie), and if the reward is too valuable it can become a taxable transaction and get you into some tax difficulties.

All that said, there is no doubt that done well it can make a big difference to the performance of fundraising campaigns. It can even develop further into fundraising directly through game playing (but that’s a whole different blog).

If you would like to discuss whether and how gamification could be used in your fundraising we'd be delighted to hear from you. Simply contact us at to arrange free initial telephone discussion.