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Gamifying the non-profit sector: Applying game mechanics to charity

2nd Sep 2013
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Nhat Vuong from crowdfunding platform ikifu.org tell us how charities are using gamification to their advantage.

The term ‘gamification’ has become widespread in our contemporary society. Nevertheless, there has also been widespread confusion about what this term incorporates and how gamification should actually be applied in practice. As a starting point, it is crucial to realise that gamification is not simply playingor designing a game, but rather the application of game mechanics, such as point-systems, levels and leader boards to solve particular issues.

In other words, gamification is the usage of game thinking in a non-game environment to enhance the engagement of users. This enhanced engagement is one of the most important objectives of gamification, as it is said to increase donor loyalty to organisations. Hence, gamification is simply a means to reach a certain goal and not an end, something many organisations often seem to forget. It is even predicted that 80% of the current gamified applications will fall short of their intended objectives by 2014. Hence, gamification will not solve all of your organisation’s issues if you have an unclear objective or a poorly designed platform to begin with.

So how can gamification be used effectively in practice? To illustrate this, let’s look at three short examples of how the implementation of game mechanics has been very successful. First there is the online puzzle platform Foldit, which was designed by the University of Washington Center for Game Science in collaboration with its biochemistry department. Foldit lets people solve puzzles for science and has been very successful in finding the structure of one of the AIDS-causing viruses. People from all over the world 'played' this puzzle game and competed to find various protein structures that matched the criteria of the researchers; the solution was found in just 10 days.

"...enhanced engagement is one of the most important objectives of gamification, as it is said to increase donor loyalty to organisations."

A second example is Opower, which uses gamification to encourage people to use less energy. Opower works together with various utility companies and informs consumers how much energy they have consumed/saved and how they are doing compared with other households in their neighbourhood. On average, people consumed 2% less energy anually since the introduction of Opower.

Finally, there is Recyclebank, which has been created to encourage people to recycle more. People are awarded points for recycling or the amount of energy they save. In turn, these points can be used to purchase actual goods at stores. In all these examples, there is a clear objective and gamification has been used as a successful means to achieve the objective.

Based on these examples of the successful usage of gamification, the question that arises is this: could gamification also be applied to the non-profit sector? The answer is a convincing 'yes', as the for-profit and non-profit sectors do not differ much when it comes to the usage of gamification. That is to say, as a for-profit business has customers and a business objective, as a non-profit has  donors and a mission to contribute to the social good. For non-profits it is therefore also crucial to build strong relationships with their donors to ensure their sustainability. Building this relationship between an NPO and its donors is challenging and it has proven difficult to change one-time donors to regular donors. Gamification can thus function as a very useful tool to increase donor loyalty as it can provide donors with incentives to keep donating.

An example of the desire to apply gamification to the non-profit sector is ikifu.org. As many NPOs in Japan struggle to gain the sufficient financial means to realize their projects, ikifu.org offers its platform to promote these NPOs and their projects. Simultaneously, the platform provides donors with a lot of transparency about how their money is being allocated. One way ikifu.org wants to promote the NPOs to potential donors and engage them in their projects is through gamification.

Although still in the initial stage, people can earn points for donations they make to NPO’s or if they share information about a particular project on their social media. More points can be earned if others click on the facts that people shared and others are also invited to contribute to these NPOs themselves. The point allocation system results in a leader board where all the donors can see who has been making contributions to the social good. In the near future, the platform aims to attach a value system to the current point system, so that users can actually use their points for concrete purposes. This would keep donors more engaged in their donation activities and will therefore benefit the NPOs financially.

Launched in 2012 by, Nhat Vuong, a vietnamese refugee, who grew up in Switzerland, ikifu.org is an online crowdfunding platform, which helps donors to find non-profit projects worth supporting. Various projects divided into 7 categories, like environment, education or natural disasters are presented to the users in the way that is easy for them to understand what they can do to contribute and what is going to happen with their donations. By contributing financially or sharing the projects to their friends, users can collect points that will measure their efforts. On parallel, i-kifu is offering to corporations the possibility to use our platform to do their crowdsourcing for internal social projects and measure the donation and volunteering participation of their employees to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

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