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Gamification For Online Fundraising

Most of our everyday activities are pretty blasé. Eating, commuting, working, and on and on.

And let’s be honest – while most people feel positively about donating to charity, for many life gets in the way, and they become distracted. While supporting a cause is a good thing, sometimes people need an extra bump.

Yet, even the most mundane activities can become fun and engaging when made into a game. That’s the concept of gamification.

Think about feeding a toddler.

You know they aren’t even remotely interested in opening their mouth for that spoon – until, that is, it becomes an airplane complete with propeller noises.

Grownups like to turn the routine into a game as well. Take exercising. Not many people are super excited about getting up for a run. But what if zombies were chasing you? You’re up and at ‘em!

This phenomenon is gamification – taking some of the best parts of game-play and translating it into everyday life.

And when gamification is integrated into your fundraising campaign, you can take donating from something that “would be nice to do” to being a fun, compelling experience that supporters will come back to again and again.

What is gamification?

Simply put, gamification happens when you use game-like design or strategy in non-game contexts. Not only does this make things more fun, but it can seriously increase your engagement.

The term first appeared in 2002, but didn’t gain popularity until 2010. Now it’s a major trend, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

Racking up frequent flyer miles is an old school example of gamification – today, you have people unlocking badges on FourSquare and competing to become the Mayor of their favorite hangouts.

Some more examples of common gamification techniques:

Progress bar

Facebook and LinkedIn have progress bars to show how much of your profile you’ve completed. Seeing an unfinished progress bar drives people nuts, so they tend to want to fill out their profile in full to get to 100%.

Leader boards

Whether it’s an app that times bicyclists in Central Park, or Trip Advisor’s list of top reviewers, leader boards encourage competition and reward people publicly for their participation.


Giving people badges to put on their profiles or levels that they can display lets them show the world their achievements. Foursquare does this pretty well. Yelp also gives reviewers “elite” status levels based on their activities.


Credit card companies often give rewards in the form of points that users can redeem for cash or merchandise. Frequent flyer miles fall in this category too.

Letting users rack up points that they can exchange for goodies is certainly an encouragement for them to use your service. And not all goodies have to be physical – you can also reward point with access to certain privileges or information.

Benefits of gamification

If gamification works in the for-profit world, it can work for your nonprofit online fundraising campaigns too. The benefit is simple: get more engagement from your supporters, which lead to more donations.

Let us explain by example:

  • A donation counter or progress bar on your fundraising page can motivate people to help you reach your goal
  • Competition between fundraisers or fundraising teams (when done right) can create a fun experience, and lead to more donations
  • A points system incentivizes action – if supporters get a certain number of points they receive rewards, either physical or virtual
  • Incorporating social sharing into a points or levels system encourages people to reach out to their social networks, thus bringing in more interest and donations

Another major benefit of gamification is that it can build community among your supporters. Nothing bonds people together like a good game or competition.

If your campaign incentivizes supporter interaction, like awarding points for uploading content to your nonprofit Facebook page. You can create a space where supporters are engaging and having fun together. And that’s always a good thing!

Real life gamification successes

Here are some examples of real companies and nonprofits that have used gamification for good.


MLB revamped their All-Star Game Charity 5k & Fun Run by adding an element of online gamification. They allowed participants sign up online, join virtual teams, and share a personal All-Star page to share on social media.

Supporters could earn badges while donating funds and recruiting teammates. In the end, they raised a record breaking $230K and engaged 6,900 supporters.


PETA gamified their annual report – taking it from a stodgy, snooze-inducing read to an engaging and educational experience. They added interactive graphics that allowed users to become a part of the encounter.

PETA also launched a mobile app that awarded badges for different advocacy actions, like writing a senator or signing a petition. This lead to an increase in their advocacy actions by 3 times the usual amount!

Groupon G-Team

Groupon’s nonprofit wing, G-Team, uses a “tipping point” model in their fundraising campaigns. That is, donations will only go into effect if a certain number of people or amount of funds is reached. The tipping point acts much like a progress bar that people want to complete.

What makes gamification work?

Gamification is all about getting people to change their behavior. If you’re trying to use game techniques but not getting anywhere, well, you’re doing it wrong. In order for someone to alter their behavior, some psychological factors need to align.

Smart guy Stanford professor B.J. Fogg came up with a theory that he humbly called Fogg’s Behavioral Model (FBM). It says that in order for a behavior to occur, three things must converge at the same time: motivation, ability, and trigger.

So in order for gamification to work, you need to capitalize on these three elements. In a gamified system:

  1. Users are motivated by the possibility of a reward, like points
  2. Users are able to accomplish the task – they believe it should be easy
  3. Users are triggered to complete the action – they are asked or prompted to do so

The key is making all of these things happen at the same time. Successful gamification will allow these dynamics to align in perfect formation, and then BAM! Engagement happens.

Drawbacks of Gamification

While gamification is flush with benefits, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. No system is perfect – especially if done flippantly.

Gamification can distort motive

Ultimately, you want people to care about your cause, and that should be the primary motivator for people to take action. Competition can make things fun, but you don’t want to shift the spotlight from the real issues you work to address. You can still use gamification techniques without undermining your cause – you just need to be careful about it.

Gamification can be costly and complex

From using resources to create rewards to setting up an entire system of levels and points, gamification takes time and effort. The rewards can be worth it, but don’t over extend yourself where you can’t afford it. There are some simple ways to use gamification, as discussed above, too.

Gamification has been around the block

Sometimes over-saturation can make something lose its influence. Don’t use gamification just because it’s trendy – make sure you are being intentional about it.

Gamification metrics

Like all strategies, they are the most useful when they can be measured. Besides donations, the key metric you are looking for in gamification is engagement.

Here are some engagement metrics to factor in:

  • Unique visitors
  • Page views per visitor
  • New users
  • Clicks
  • Time spent on site
  • Total time spent per user
  • Frequency of visits
  • Depth of visit
  • Participation
  • User generated content

Abstract benefits of gamification, like fun, awareness, and community are also really valuable. In some ways these should be expressed in the engagement metrics – the more new supporters you gain, or social shares you get, the more awareness is spread.

If you’re getting more user generated content, you are building more community. You get the idea.

Getting started with gamification

You’re probably already using some gamification techniques – like a thermometer showing how close your campaign is to reaching its fundraising goal.

If you’re implementing gamification for the first time, start with the small things. Before launching an entire campaign based around gamification, make sure it will work on the small scale.

Here are some things you can do to get started:

  • Put a progress bar on individual supporters’ fundraising sites (CauseVox can help you make it!)
  • Create badges that all donors can share on social media after giving
  • Try a team-based approach for your next fundraising campaign
  • Start tracking engagement metrics so that you can see how/if you improve with new techniques.

And above all, have fun!

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