$1m winner of online philanthropy prize announced
The culmination of a three month online competition in which US bank JP Morgan Chase invited Facebook users to help allocate some of its corporate philanthropy, resulted in a prize of $1m (£0.6m) for humanitarian charity Invisible Children.
The San-Diego based organisation works for peace and development in Uganda, with a focus on the children and young people who have grown up in a country ravaged by two decades of ongoing civil war.
The competition had a close finish with Invisible Children winning 123,990 votes, just 1,248 votes ahead of the Isha Foundation, a charity based in Tennessee and southern India which promotes wellbeing and runs human services projects.
In total, $5m (£3m) has been awarded to 100 small and local US charities. The runner up, and a further four charities, each won $100,000 and the 94 other short-listed charities each won $25,000. The eight lowest placed charities received less than 1,000 votes each. As each Facebook user was allowed to cast 5 votes, just a couple of hundred people helped secure $25,000 for their favourite cause, with each vote worth at least $25. The full list of winning charities is published online.
On its website the bank describes the online contest as an attempt to “harness the power of social networking to give individuals and communities a voice in corporate philanthropy”.
But the experiment has also attracted some controversy. The first stage of the competition led to accusations that some organisations, such as ‘Students for Sensible Drug Policy’ were disqualified from reaching the short-list, allegedly because the bank did not wish to be associated with their missions].
As a result of this controversy, the bank issued a statement: “We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback as well as constructive suggestions. As a result, Chase Community Giving Fans will see many of their suggestions implemented into Round Two of the programme. Specifically, the Round Two vote count for each charity will be displayed on that organisation’s page. And a leader board, which will be updated at least once a day, will appear on the main Chase Community Giving page throughout the voting period, so that Fans may see the progress of the finalists.”
Despite these efforts, the final stage also attracted some controversy. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the local paper of the eventual winner, there are questions about the validity of some votes cast for the eventual runner-up. The Isha Foundation was getting 500 to 700 votes every five minutes in the closing hours of voting Friday night. According to the paper, the Chase Community Giving Web site went offline just before the contest closed, then re-launched a few minutes later and named Invisible Children the winner.
Also according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the winning group has promised to use the $1m to rebuild schools, dig wells, subsidise education in Uganda and disseminate information about the deplorable situation in that country. The organisation has also pledged to give $100,000 to the Haiti earthquake relief effort.
As a result of interest in the use of new media for philanthropic activities, as exemplified in this case, the March 2010 edition of the Philanthropy UK newsletter will focus on issues relating to e-philanthropy.