Premal Shah, the president of the microlending organization Kiva, has a contrarian view of the companies that are the biggest competition for nonprofit fundraisers. While the obvious competitors for fundraising dollars are other organizations raising money for their own cause, Shah makes the case that casual gaming company Zynga will be Kiva’s biggest competitor over the next 5 years.

Shah argues that nonprofit fundraisers are ultimately competing against gaming sites and other entertainment sources for the attention of the individuals that are the engine of any successful nonprofit fundraising effort. The challenge is not how to get individuals to participate in your fundraising event over another, it’s how to get them to spend their time and money investing in your cause. This means developing an engagement plan that shows stronger value (and more meaningful impact) than casual gaming, fantasy football, or any of the other myriad distractions and diversions that people have at their disposal. Shah thinks that by understanding people’s motivations to play games like Farmville and fantasy sports–to be entertained and enjoy game dynamics–you can add these elements to your fundraising event to maximize the attention it garners from potential participants.

So how do you position your event to compete for the attention of participants? Start by adding a participatory element to the event that is in sync with the mission of your organization. The Komen on the Go mobile marketing program, for instance, provides an interactive experience empowering participants to share information with friends and join the breast cancer movement. Simply asking people to support breast cancer research is a noble effort, but the ask will be more effective if done in the channels where the most people are consuming information, and in the manner which is leading to the most engagement.

Certainly, creating a game that integrates your organization’s mission into the storyline or gameplay could lead to greater exposure and participation, because it is aligned with the interactive manner in which people are increasingly choosing to consume information. For example, Shah says he wants to build an experience that makes donating to help build a farm in Kenya as engaging as building a virtual farm in a Facebook game.

More importantly, the Kiva example underscore the fact that the game is only a means to an end–it needs to be part of a larger strategy of meeting donors where they are and on their terms. If you start with that goal, and couple it with a strong qualitative and quantitative-based understanding of your target audience, finding the right tactic (be it a game, a scavenger hunt, a mobile marketing experience, etc.) should be the last step, not the first.

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