5 Contest Ideas for Nonprofits


Nonprofit marketing can be challenging. Often you’re stuck with a low budget, insufficient staff, and a board that needs to meet six times before any decisions can be made.

Ring any bells?

What if it could be just a bit easier, though? What if there were a simple strategy which could maximize your time, energy and resources with a proven return?

There is. I won’t beat around the bush: time and again we’ve seen contests work fantastically for nonprofits. They deliver a higher ROI than any other strategy and get you leads who actually become members, sponsors and friends down the line.

In this article I’ll give you everything you need to create a successful contest for your nonprofit:

  • A description of how the five most-promising contests can work for your organization
  • Examples from our templates of what an optimized nonprofit contest might look like
  • My prize ideas, images, headline and copy that you can use today.

Let’s get rolling.

#1. Sweepstakes Contest

Sweepstakes (also called giveaways) are our most frequently-used contest type. This is primarily because they have the lowest barrier of entry (resulting in a large number of entrants) and are the simplest type of contest to create and run.

Entrants just submit their email address in the contest page’s form field and they’re entered to win in a random draw. Simple.

For nonprofits (more than any other organization), it’s essential that your prize be directly related with your cause. If you offer something like cash or a product unrelated to your cause, you’ll generate entrants only interested in that prize, people not likely to become members or donors down the line.

Recommended Prize: Free table at a fundraising event

An example sweepstakes contest using a Wishpond template:

#2. Referral Contest

A referral contest is the best way for your organization to leverage your existing social media Fans and contacts in order to get more of both.

How it works:

  1. Someone arrives on your referral contest page and enters in the same way they would a sweepstakes. However, everyone who enters receives a small prize (like a half-off coupon or $10 gift certificate) – this is just the reward for entering.
  2. Once they’ve won the base prize, they’re emailed the coupon code (or gift certificate) along with a share URL which is unique to them.
    They then take the share URL and work to win a larger reward (like a higher value gift card or product) by referring their friends, family and colleagues to enter via that URL.
  3. A referral is counted when the entrant’s friend or family member clicks on the unique URL and enters the promotion (redeeming their own initial reward).

Running a referral contest is a fantastic idea for nonprofits, because they yield one of the largest returns with the smallest amount of investment. Instead of doing all the work of promoting your own contest, your entrants will do it for you. They have a vested interest in generating buzz, traffic, and opening your organization up to thousands of new, prospective clients.

Recommended Prize: A product related to your nonprofit’s cause

An example referral contest using a Wishpond template:

#3. Vote Contest

There are two kinds of vote contests: one, which is used to get insight into your existing members and sponsors through a democratic process; and another, which is used in a similar way as a photo contest (but without the restriction of a photo-only submission).

I’ll leave the second type alone for now, as I’ll discuss photo contests in the next section, and instead dive into the insight-focused vote contest.

Your organization can put as many options as you want within your vote contest page, and ask members, sponsors (or the general public) for their insight about which option they prefer. This gives you priceless insight into what will work best for your organization.

Let me clear up any confusion with a few examples:

  • Use a vote contest when your nonprofit is determining a cause or direction to pursue in the new year
  • Use a vote contest when redesigning your organization’s logo or branding
  • Use a vote contest to determine which specific aspects of your cause your members feel strongest about

They’re very easy to set up on your website, blog or even Facebook Page. Everyone who enters has (again) a vested interest in driving traffic towards the contest (as you incentivize voting by giving a small prize to everyone who voted for the winning option).

Recommended Prize: Swag

An example vote contest using a Wishpond template:

#4: Photo Contest

Photo contests are similar to vote contests except that the content voted on is submitted (and championed) by your entrants, not your brand. Entrants simply enter their email address and upload a photo and then encourage their friends and family to vote on their photo. Whichever entrant’s photo has the most votes at the end of your contest wins your prize.

Photo contests are a fantastic way for your nonprofit to boost engagement with your brand’s Facebook Page (or Instagram, if you’re on that platform). Since cameras became a fixture in our pockets (through smart phones), we’re all amateur photographers, proud of the pictures we take and wanting to share them with the world.

So remember, your members (and prospective members) want to have their photos seen. Tap into that desire with a photo contest and not only do you get user-generated content (content given to your brand by Fans and members which can be used for marketing purposes in the future), but every single entrant has a vested interest in their photo (and therefore your photo promotion and organization) being seen. Entrants will share it with their friends, family and colleagues, who give you their email address to vote as well.

Recommended Prize: Night on the town from sponsors

An example photo contest using a Wishpond template:

#5: Essay or Video Contest

Essay and video contests might be a bit more intimidating than the other promotions, as there’s a bit more involved. But trust me, setting them up is no more complicated than it is for any of the other contest types.

Both essay and vote contests give your supporters a chance to make their voices heard. This is a huge part of why your entrants will submit. Video and essay contests get your supporters involved in your organization (as they feel like you want to hear from them as individuals).

No matter what essay and video contests have (admittedly) a higher barrier-of-entry than many of the other contests, so your prize will need to increase accordingly.

A few essay contest prize suggestions:

  • Feature the winner’s entry on your website, blog, or hard-copy newsletter (so long as there’s sizeable readership)
  • Free trip to a fundraiser or networking event related to your cause
  • More traditional prize (like a family weekend getaway) where the submission is the story of how your organization or cause has impacted their life.

Once again, by basing your essay contest’s winner on votes, you encourage each entrant to share your brand and their submission with their friends and family (or, as in the real-world example below, their huge personal followings).

Recommended Prize: Meet-and-greet with notable somebody

An example essay contest using a Wishpond template:


When it comes down to it, social media contests are very simply one of the best ways to drive social growth and generate new members for your organization. There are few strategies which come close to the power of a good promotion.

Hopefully this article has given you a bit of background about the main types of contests which can work for your nonprofit. Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below!

To learn more about each of these promotions, check out these free courses from Wishpond Academy:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *