That Time a Charity Giveaway Backfired
Join the conversation in our Facebook group and use the hashtag #MarketersAnon!
Listen to the Podcast
We were running a nonprofit website giveaway (November 2018). This has been the second time that we’ve done it. So last year we did it for a couple of different reasons.
Array Digital’s Nonprofit Giveaway: What and Why
The first was really to kind of, well, honestly it’s do the right thing. We wanted to give everyone in our company something that they could really kind of sink their teeth into, something that would make them feel good about coming to work and really just give back to the community.
So we’re all from the same area. Most of our folks here are in Norfolk. We do have two people that are full time employees down in Florida, but both of them started off here in Norfolk and then they moved to Florida and they stayed with us. So we all have roots to the community. Most of us live here, all of us have lived here at one point and so we wanted to give back and we decided to do a website giveaway.
Designing Giveaways for PR
The second reason that we did it was frankly, it’s just good PR. It gets our name out there. The news media picks it up and they continue to pick it up and they run stories.
What we did is we set up a system where these nonprofits will post online on Facebook, and then they will vote or they’ll have their people vote for each nonprofit. The nonprofit who gets the most votes wins. So it gets our name out there a lot. It really spikes up our traffic. So from a business development standpoint, it’s great as well.
Using Giveaways to Channel Freebie Requests
And then the third reason frankly, was because we get hit up a lot for freebies. So almost on a weekly basis, at least once a week, someone is asking us to do something for free, for a good cause. And a lot of times the good cause is a frankly a great cause. Like, I would love to do it, and I’d love to be able to help them and be able to further their.
The problem is that I have to pay people here. And so if I have people working for free on a project that’s not going to pay us, even though it’s a good cause, their paychecks have got to come from somewhere. So they still expect to get paid and I need the ability to pay them.
We can only do so much work for free. So what we decided to do was to set up a program so that we can give back to the community. We can give back to our staff or let our staff can evolve into something worthwhile.
We could also get some business development and we can kind of hedge against the people that are always asking us for something for free by saying, “Well, we’ve got this program where you need to submit.”
Who We Targeted for Our Giveaway
Now what we decided to do was you have to be legitimate 501(c)(3) nonprofit in order to participate. That means that you have to be able to provide some sort of paperwork that shows you’re a nonprofit. What we’re not going to do is give a free website to someone that just has a good idea or wants to start a for profit business. If they’re looking to start a for profit business, then they need to engage with us normally.
So this is the second year, as I said. And one of the things that I wanted to talk about was the problems that we’re having right now. The first year was great. We got great PR. We really didn’t have any hiccups.
Our Nonprofit Giveaway Nightmare
This year we’re having a problem with our voting system and we weren’t exactly sure what it was. There was a page on our website, and when you go there, you’d see all the nonprofits that were registered for voting. We opened up voting on a Monday. And as soon as we opened voting, it was a problem.
On Monday, we started to get just a ton of people reaching out to us through our website, through the chat feature, and they just couldn’t figure out how to vote. It worked for us. It worked in our browser. None of us could duplicate the problem, but people kept reporting it. And as we got more reports, we figured out that it was happening on iPhone and in particular in Safari.
What was happening was they were getting prompted to log into Facebook in a different tab that they couldn’t see. Once we realized that on Tuesday morning, we rebuilt the entire voting system from scratch, and we put that out there. For a while, things really calmed down quite a bit. But then we started having more problems.
So one of the features that we had built in was people can only vote once per day, and we did that by placing a cookie on everyone’s browser with the date and time that they can vote again. Unfortunately, what started happening was they were not able to vote a second time.
So we were doing some convoluted stuff . We were taking that voting page, and we were creating new pages and redirecting the urls to the brand new page where the cookie doesn’t apply. It’s really frustrating for us because we’re giving away a website, and we’re getting a lot of complaints.
But then on the other hand, it is completely justified because we were providing an inferior user experience. It was frankly a pain in the ass.
Urgency in Fixing the Problem
Now this program, the nonprofit giveaway, is something we’re going to replicate when we expand down to Orlando. The voting runs for the next like four days, and we also had to fix this so that we can use it in the future. It really only affected a handful of people, but it was more than I was comfortable with.
So this really took up a lot of our week, and it’s just so incredibly frustrating to, you know, hear from people that are having a bad experience with your product.
One of the things I want to leave you with is when you put something out in the world, a lot of times you’ll put it out and, and initial format and you know, there’s this concept of the MVP, the minimal viable product. You need to get something out there quick and then you need to iterate.
The Moral of the Story: Assume It’s Your Fault
But if there’s a problem with it, then you have to fix it. And so what I’ve really stressed into my team is when we start to see some signals that there’s a problem, don’t say “It works on my computer.” You really need to dig in. If you need to call the person, figure out what’s going on and just tackle that problem head on and always assume it’s your fault.
When I was a younger developer, I would assume that it was someone else’s fault or that it was the end user’s fault. And I learned over the years, that’s not the case. Always assume it’s your fault and once you confirm that it’s your fault, fix it immediately. Super important.