One Post Challenge: Something’s Happening Here

In case you haven’t noticed, the One Post Challenge entry from “a fundraiser” has generated 60 comments as of this writing. I have intentionally not commented on the progress of the competition so far as I didn’t want to interfere in the process that was unfolding. But I’m going to break my silence.

What the $500 For Your Nonprofit post did was take control of the competition and create an incentive for commentators rather than retaining the incentive for the blog post author. This was an exceptional demonstration of the author’s understanding of online fundraising. His/her post generated attention and a link from a high traffic blog called BlogActive, which quickly became the top referring site to my blog (hello Pride at Work!). The fact that both the NY Times and the Chronicle of Philanthropy coincidently mentioned my blog yesterday also spurred traffic (although it is important to note that BlogActive sent more readers, and more engaged readers, than the NY Times or the Chronicle).

So now we see that when competing for attention online, having a great, well thought-out message doesn’t always win the game. You also need to understand the medium that you’re working with. Now the question becomes does the $500 For Your Nonprofit post simply highjack this competition and show that mobs are more powerful/important than intelligent thought provoking commentary? Or are their new and creative ways that participants can take back control of the competition and find a way to redirect this traffic surge to engage people to type more than three words?

To me, this is the central dilemma of online marketing. Is the internet great at getting millions of people to watch online videos of cats doing dumb things? Or can the power of social media be harnessed to provide a benefit to the public good?
I can think of no industry with a more vested interest in this question than philanthropy.

What’s your answer? Email me your entry to the One Post Challenge and demonstrate how social media for the social good is done.

(I’d like to thank Network for Good for co-sponsoring this competition and awarding their new Good Card to the One Post Challenge winner. Click here for One Post Challenge rules.)


  1. Jeff Tuller says:

    Sean, you’ve hit the bullseye with this post – in fact more than once, which is exactly the problem I see.

    The internet is absolutely the perfect medium for both intelligent discourse *and* for photos of cats riding invisible bicycles.

    The problem is that it’s really hard to satisfy the audience for both at the same time – or more to the point, in the same competition.

    I think the ship has already sailed on your hijacking point – I’m certainly not anticipating any surprises in the battle between the mob and the intelligentsia… but even after the mob walks away with the win, I hope there’s still room here for some discussion of the lessons learned on the battlefield.

  2. It is hard to do both at once. Creating a hit TV show is different than writing War & Peace. And yet the very best content always manages to strike a middle ground. Lost (the TV show) is both a critical success and a mainstream hit.

    If the “intelligentsia” are content speaking to each other and never trying to engage the “mob”, then the ship already has sailed in this contest. But if smart people want to actually make a difference, they need to get out of the echo chamber and engage a broader audience. It is tough to create a “cross-over hit”, but it happens.

  3. So you didn’t see the possibility of your blog being hijacked. Big deal. Let the winner enjoy its spoils and the rest of us will be satisfied by the fact you experimented, invited different voices and we heard and read some interesting things. Personally, I think you are using the wrong metric to evaluate the success of this venture. Who knows how many others who didn’t comment still found much to think about and reflect on? Who knows how many other people they told about what they read, or perhaps even commented about on other blogs? My point is that it’s not so much where individual internet conversations take place “physically” anymore…but that they take place in a lot of places. So thanks for this.

  4. Bruce, thanks for the nice words.

    I don’t think (I hope) that my contest has not been hijacked. I think Don’t Tell the Donor just showed everyone that our bright ideas don’t stand a chance against marketing that knows how to leverage the power of the internet. Don’t Tell the Donor only managed to energize one nonprofit. I hope that there are some smart marketers out there who know how to sell great ideas.

    Maybe you know a couple of people from your conference in Florida who might know a thing or two about spreading important messages online?

  5. There are many, many examples of people “gaming” the system and other one-shot marketing examples. My prediction is that if that kind of stuff keeps happening repeatedly people will get turned off by what they’re reading and will stop being stimulated and satisfied. Whether marketing on or offline, you have to deliver value. And standing up in front of a crowd and saying “Hey, look at me,” works once, maybe twice. But it’s not lasting.

    How do you spread important messages online? Keep doing what you’re doing. Stay at it day after day. But also find ways to see if others are reading (ie the ones not commenting). Invite people to email you directly about what they like and what topics they want to see more of. Post a link to a survey. Don’t jump to conclusions based on numbers of comments. That’s not a true measurement.

  6. I agree with the idea that the number of comments does not capture the quality of the conversation. But a competition needs an objective, transparent set of rules.

    There are a flood of new One Post Entries coming in. A number of people have said they’ve always wanted to “say something”, but never really knew the platform to do it.

    We’re learning a lot of lessons as this competition unfolds (at least I have). Don’t call the game in the bottom of the 4th, Bruce!

  7. a fundraiser says:


    Let’s clear a couple of things up.

    When I thought of the angle for my challenge entry, I had never heard of the group “Pride at Work.” I was expecting several big groups to duke it out…

    This wasn’t done by one kid jumping up and down 60 times… check the different IP addresses that left comments… this was a quick grassroots response triggered by an activist blogger who was able to reach (and motivate) dozens of engaged supporters to visit your site and leave a comment.

    When I read your response and the comments by you and Bruce above, I was disappointed by the elitest voices you guys are using.

    Do you really see the internet as an epic battle between the intelligensia who
    have bright ideas versus the mob?

    That’s scary.

    You said it yourself: one link from a blog generated more engaged readers and traffic than the New York Times and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Does that tell you something?

    Nonprofit fundraisers who want to make the most of the internet will need to learn that it’s not about building a website and talking AT people, but finding a way to give motivated supporters an opportunity to engage and help.

    If you continue to see the vast majority of web readers as a mindless mob who watches YouTube videos of cats rather than rising to your level, maybe this blog would be better suited as a private members only forum.

    Thanks again for running the contest. I think it adds a lot to our nonprofit fundraising blogosphere.

    “a fundraiser”

  8. I used “intelligentsia” and “mob” in quote marks because they were the words Jeff used. I LOVE your post and the response it generated. However, the goal of the competition was to cultivate a conversation, not just give away money. What your post demonstrated was how incredibly powerful viral marketing can be (I’ve checked the IP addresses, the Pride at Work people are for real).

    However, I don’t think your post on its own is the ultimate goal of this competition. But I think that it raises the bar significantly. Trista had some traction going in her comments, but now this competition can’t be won with a bright idea alone, it needs marketing too (just like in the real world).

    As far as I have noted, not one of the other posters has even thought to submit their post to Digg or StumbleUpon. You’ve done the “intelligentsia” (those people who like to discuss high minded ideals in an echo chamber) a huge favor by showing how much more traction their ideas can get if they would figure out how to engage everyone else.

    Three cheers for “a fundraiser” (seriously). He/she did this competition a huge favor. Now who’s got the next act?

  9. Jeff Tuller says:

    I’m not sure what to make of the trajectory of this conversation. I think the tension between the ‘mob’ and the ‘intelligentsia” is real, even if the labels are a little silly… but where did the Us versus Them division come from? I’m both an elitist intellectual windbag AND a lowbrow lover of spelling-challenged felines – aren’t you?

    I like the TV program analogy from Sean’s comment. I watch both PBS and Comedy Central, and know what to expect when I tune to each. What happened here is that I tuned in to PBS expecting The News Hour and instead got South Park. Now I’m a huge fan of both shows, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for fart jokes from Jim Lehrer.

    My instigating post simply reflected my personal reaction to reality not matching my expectations. I find myself entered into a different competition than I thought I was entering, which is uncomfortable, but not necessarily unconstructive – it’s too soon to tell. But what I do know is that whatever names you attach to the two sides, the struggle between them is taking place inside our heads – not between them.

  10. Maybe if Sean repeats this he won’t offer any prize, other than the opportunity he’s giving people to talk about what’s important to them. Then he, and the rest of us, can read and think about what people are saying, and at the same time, watch which posts gain the most traction or spark the most interest. If that works well, we’ll all be winners.

  11. Jeff, great set of analogies. I don’t agree with everything you wrote, but I think it would be great if the Philanthropy Sector could move away from a PBS style to something with more mainstream appeal. That doesn’t mean South Park (and give the quality of discussion taking place on posts like GuideStar for Sale, I think this competition is nothing like South Park), but it does mean figuring out how to change the world AND get people who are not charity nerds to want to join in.

  12. Maya Norton says:

    Maybe I have a caveman mentality, but I am going to state my opinion anyway…

    Don’t Tell the Donor’s post was a great example of harnessing marketing potential, but it did not add to the conversation in any way and I do consider it a highjacking of the ideas challenge.

    The prizes were not the point, but rather a nice incentive to promote ideas. A good organization will still get the reward, but the other authors’ external motivation is lost.

    (Sorry, Sean… I didn’t want to be disrespectful saying this, but this is how I feel.)

    My suggestion is– if available/possible– honorable mention prizes be rewarded as tokens for enhancing the communal conversation.

    Maya Norton

    The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy

  13. Maya, welcome to the world of blogging where people disagree all the time.

    I said I would only post “relevant” entries. Here’s why I think Don’t Tell The Donor’s entry was relevant:

    “I am going to use Sean’s “One Post Challenge” to demonstrate the power of fundraisers who understand the online world. Blogging is not about talking AT PEOPLE, it’s about making readers part of the story and giving them a reason to be engaged.”

    Show not tell is the lesson we all learned in grade school about writing well. Don’t Tell the Donor could have written a post that explained why he/she thought that fundraisers and/or philanthropy in generally needs to understand social media tools to be effective in the 21st century.

    Instead, he/she simply lay down the gauntlet and showed how a simple tactic could spread his/her message far and wide. To me, it was a powerful demonstration of how to get a message to gain traction online.

    Is it possible for one of the posts focused on philanthropic theory to have that kind of viral element? Of course! But so far, none of the other posters have shown they know how to do it.

    My bet is by the end of this thing, will see some interesting attempts.

  14. Matt says:

    ” . . . showed how a simple tactic . . .”


    Nah, I’m kidding. What he/she did was a smart, valid technique. And it did some good – I, for one, know lots more about Pride at Work than I did before.

    But just try adapting it to your own goals. At 7-8 bucks per supporter, give or take, and with each supporter contributing . . . a couple clicks and a sentence? . . . this method will need some serious tweaking. I like the idea of motivating people based on what they want, not what you think they should want. That’s good. Even motivating them with a small chance at good ol’ filthy lucre is fine – it works for McDonald’s, say. But straight-up handing out money? Geez. No thanks.

    To me, don’ttell just proved the power of money. If anyone proved the power of networking, it was Pride at Work.

  15. If bribery was the key to Don’t Tell the Donor, why has Rich Polt’s post, offering $2,500 in PR services on top of the $500, not gotten the response that Don’t Tell the Donor got?

  16. Rich’s post had fine print…”the most inspiring comments/story (as determined by us after reading your posts).” Your rules lets the “market” decide.

  17. Matt says:

    Because it wasn’t very good bribery.

    Rich’s tactic is nice, but flawed. He has a 60-comment deficit starting out, and doesn’t offer motivation to overcome it. Why isn’t $2500 motivation? Because it doesn’t go to the organization that overcomes that deficit, it goes to the one that he picks.

    . . . or maybe the problem is that Pride at Work is the only organization motivated enough to participate that much, and they don’t want to risk the $500 they’ve got wrapped up.

    On preview, Bruce has already said what I’m trying to say.

  18. a fundraiser says:

    I never had any idea my post could cause such an uproar… I wonder if Bruce and Maya have the same indignant reaction to this contest by to give away $500 supported by corporate sponsors:

  19. Sean,

    My two cents (pence) is thus: you’re getting people to engage and react, and that’s what is important. I’ve been involved with competitions and my hunch is that the real benefit is that people learn from each other, and test assumptions, and– yes, vie for first place. But in this case, vying for first place is a win-win for us all. We learn, we engage, and our favorite nonprofit wins some cash.

    I applaud the medium, and encourage us all to engage.


  20. Gillian says:

    Just a query about the time frame for comments.

    When is the cut off for comments? Do posts that go online on 30 Nov get only a day or so for responses, while those that went up on 15th have two weeks?

    Or is it a even four weeks after each post went online?


    I like the random uncontrollable aspect of setting up a playground with a certain set of rules then standing back to see what the kids do in it.

    I think that all the play we’re seeing in this competition is pro-social, so that’s OK. Words like ‘hijack’ only apply if the playground designer had an agenda of some sort. I get the impression that Sean (the playground designer in this case) was quite open to see what would happen.

    Thanks for setting this up. I’m enjoying the various perspectives that are emerging.

  21. Thanks Gillian, glad you approve. From the original announcement of the contest rules:

    “The comments will be counted as of December 3 at midnight pacific time.”

    Getting your post in early is definitely an advantage.