Social media contests are excellent tools for brand awareness and community engagement. Online sharing, and tagging, is the new word-of-mouth for 2018. Contests can generate user content that spreads the message of your nonprofit. People like to participate, and it is always fun to dream of winning a prize.

Because of social media, running contests has never been easier but there are a few steps you can take to improve your chances of success.

Here are eight tips to help with running an online contest for your nonprofit

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1. Determine your measure of success

Do you want to promote brand awareness? Are you looking for online community engagement? Are you looking for feedback? A contest can do all of these things. If you want brand awareness, you can have contestants tag their friends and follow your page. If you want user-generated content, a photo contest is your best option.

Think about the measure of success for your contest: it will form the contest design. Building from your goals will also prevent you from designing a contest that does not fit for the topic. If you want online engagement, a photo contest would then be unsuitable. Users would post to their own page, and will not engage with yours. It is also difficult to measure engagement on other users’ profiles. Decide what you want from the contest, and then design it.

2. Use a landing page

Even if your contest only runs on one social media platform, always have a landing page on your website. The landing page should be attractive and clear. It should include all rules, such as eligibility, duration, and the prizes. If you are unsure of what to include, research on the internet for examples. Adapt these rules to your own use, and use them to focus your landing page. If you would like to see the landing page of one of Conservation Halton’s contests, you can view our Share Your #maplemoment contest landing page here.

3. Set a reasonable contest duration

Your contest should have a reasonable duration. If it is a small, week-long campaign, make sure there is time to promote the contest, so people can enter. If your contest runs for multiple weeks, contestants and your online community may forget about it.

One of Conservation Halton’s contests, Share your #maplemoment, was designed to encourage user-generated content during the six weeks of the Maple Town festival: we had to plan how to sustain attention over the six weeks. We gave out weekly prizes, as well as a grand prize entry at the very end of the festival. Entries submitted for a weekly prize were also eligible for the grand prize. Because of this strategy, contestants stayed interested over the six week period. Also, some people visited the festival again, and posted more content, because they were excited about the grand prize.

4. Offer prizes that match the effort

Make sure the prize matches the effort needed to enter the contest. The more you ask of a contestant, the bigger and more desirable the prize(s) need to be. Believe it or not, asking contestants to take a picture and post it online is a big ask. Thus, a suitable prize, such as a $500 gift card, would be worth the effort of entering the contest. Many contests have failed to interest people, because contest organizers did not find appropriate prizes for the effort asked.

Make sure you promote the prizes and grand prize when you announce the contest. For example, the Princess Margaret Home Lottery promotes all the fantastic prizes contestants can win. Not all nonprofits are able to offer prizes on that scale, but regardless of what prizes are offered in your contest, promote the prizes early and often.

Make sure the prize matches the effort needed to enter the contest + more tips on running an online contest for your nonprofit #NPMC Click To Tweet

5. Promote the contest

If no one knows about the contest, no one can enter it! Promote the contest in all your communications. Reach out to partners and ask them to share the contest to their networks.

6. Use hashtags appropriately

There are many misconceptions about the use of hashtags in social media, and especially for contests. Hashtags are not useful for promotion. Many hashtags have already been in use, and very few people will necessarily know which one to use. Hashtags are far more useful for the function of a contest rather than its promotion.

In my experience, I have found that hashtags have two primary uses for social media contests: to submit entry or to find entries. If contestants are entering a photo contest, hashtags are useful. Contestants use the hashtag to submit their entry. Contest organizers, on the other hand, use the hashtag as a ‘bookmark’ to find all the contest entries and promotional posts. Hashtags are handy after the contest when one needs to compile a report.

Do bear in mind that not all contestants are perfect spellers; you may have to search several different spellings of your contest hashtag to find all the entries.

7. Beware of professional contest players

Professional contest players are people who seek out contests as a hobby, and some as a side gig, purely for the prizes. These contestants are not engaged with the mission of your nonprofit.

Your contest is a means of promoting your nonprofit and its story. So, you should reward the contestants who care about your organization. Use randomizers to select winners, but always screen the winners. Look at their social media profiles, and you will easily spot a professional contest player. Their social media profiles will be public (most contests only engage with public profiles), and you will see that their timeline is nothing but entries to other contests.

8. Announce the winner

This is the fun part! Always announce the winner(s) of your contest. Contestants also like to know that someone did indeed win the prize. If people do not see a winner, they will wonder if the contest and the prize was real.

Have you run a contest previously? Is there anything missing from my list? What tips would you share to successfully run an online contest? Please share in the comments section below!

Running an online contest for your nonprofit: checklist of tips for success #NPMC Click To Tweet
Karlee May

Karlee May

Digital Media Coordinator at Conservation Halton
Karlee May has been the Digital Media Coordinator for Conservation Halton for the past five years. She leads the digital strategy and marketing for Conservation Halton, Halton Parks, Glen Eden, and Ways of the Woods brands. She believes in the power of storytelling, and in being human online. Connect with her at