3 ways to gamify your online fundraising


This post looks at three types of gamification in fundraising:

  1. Variable rewards
  2. Using leaderboards
  3. Offering prizes

Gamification refers to the use of fun elements typically found in game playing. How can elements like leaderboards be used to fuel engagement in non-game settings?

#1 Increase donor participation through variable rewards

Variable rewards are powerful. They increase a person’s likelihood of completing and repeating an action. Take your inbox as an example: your emails will range from your favourite weekly newsletter to an influx of spam. The ‘variable rewards’ you get when checking your inbox ensure that you keep checking 100 times a day.

“People love novelty, and neuroscience shows regions of the brain become more active in anticipation of a variable reward’ Nir Eyal, Hooked. (B.F. Skinner calls this intermittent reinforcement).

Localgiving’s success with variable rewards

A wonderful example of how variable rewards can work in fundraising is Localgiving’s #GiveMeFive campaign. When someone donated to a campaign, Localgiving would unpredictably vary the amount matchfunded. Using this technique, they saw an increase in donations year on year.

giveme5 gamify your online fundraising

Here’s Chief Executive Stephen Mallison’s explanation of how it works:

#GiveMe5 is a ‘randomised’ matchfund in which each £5 donation made within a 24hr period is placed into a draw to receive an additional £5 of match funding. In 2015 Localgiving ran three #GiveMe5 campaigns, each of which matched 1,000 £5 donations.

Each iteration of the campaign saw a sizable increase in the overall amount raised. There was also an incremental increase in participation among charities and supporters throughout the year.

From a funder’s perspective, #GiveMe5 campaigns offer leverage of between 5x and 7x the initial fund – a significant increase on that achieved by traditional, ‘guaranteed’ match funds.

Moreover, donor feedback from the #GiveMe5 campaigns has been positive, with a number of people specifically referencing the potential match as a draw of the campaign. As one donor explained: “#GiveMe5 is a great idea for raising awareness with an added touch of excitement too!”

And the results?

results from gamifying online fundraising

#2 Stimulate campaign sharing through leaderboards

Who doesn’t love some light competition? Leaderboards have been used by video games creators since 1978 (à la Space Invaders) to increase player acquisition, engagement and retention. (For more detail on the psychological nitty gritty of how leaderboards and competition work, check out this presentation.)

A leaderboard example from SOAS

Another example is SOAS’s ‘Does Knowledge Have Borders?’ giving campaign. It aims to raise £250k for displaced people who can’t access student finance.

The university gathered many ‘ambassadors’ to spread the word about the campaign online. They could then see from a leaderboard which ambassadors generated the most donations. Thanks in part to this competitive element, to date the ambassadors have generated 5,203 clicks and raised £7,814.

SOAS leaderboard - online fundraising

#3 Incentivise with prizes

Another way to incentivise people to share a fundraising campaign is to offer prizes. The prospect of a reward is an excellent motivator. Rewards keep people going and can motivate them to get the greatest reach for your campaign.

Messiah College inspires through prizes

Messiah College recently ran a Giving Day, and recruited their most active social media alumni as ‘ambassadors’. Those who generated the most clicks to the campaign donation page won prizes such as Amazon vouchers and T-shirts.

Messiah College - online fundraising

And the results? They raised $80,000 from 345 donors.

Hopefully these examples show how gamification could supercharge your own giving campaign. If you’d like to talk it through, please get in touch!

Useful resources

  • The book Hooked by Nir Eyal – Recommended reading about the science of gamification. Includes examples of well-known companies using these techniques (for good and bad!)
  • Variable Rewards -A summary of Nir Eyal’s theory about the effects of variable rewards.
  • Leaderboards – A nice read about the appeal of leaderboards.
  • The Psychology of High Scores, Leaderboards, & Competition – A presentation from academic Jamie Madigan about the psychology of gamification elements.
  • Gamification for Global Health – A blog post from UC Berkeley hypothesizing how gamification can be used for global health.

Christina Pashialis

Featured Blog Post

Popular Blog Posts