3 Ways Zynga’s CastleVille Promo Could Integrate Causes Better

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Zynga, the heavy hitter in the social gaming space, announced a new cause-promotion last week for one of their new games, CastleVille. While Zynga should be commended for making efforts to support causes through its marketing, they’ve fallen short of integrating charity into the promotion as well as they could have.

Here’s how the promo works: visit the CastleVille page on Facebook and “Like” the game. Then, select one of three non-profits to whom you’d like to designate a donation from Zynga. If CastleVille reaches 5 million “Likes”, then Zynga will donate $100,000 to these causes. The non-profit with the most votes will receive $40,000, while the other two each receive $30,000.

Again, it’s great that Zynga has decided to integrate charitable support into the promotion of a new game. But they could have done a much better job on making the integration with causes more meaningful. Here are three ways they could have turned a single into a home run:

1. Integrate with the product: Three causes are presented for voting: clean water (via water.org), disaster relief (via Direct Relief International), and Education (via Save the Children). Try to find any relationship with the game, which is about exploring a medieval world with your friends, and you won’t find much of a connection. Not that there has to be an overt link (is there even such a think as a medieval-based non-profit?), but some attempt to connect the two would have made the causes much more relevant. For example, are there characters in the game that Zynga could have associated with each non-profit? Even a loose connection would have been better than nothing at all; instead, the causes feel tacked on to the promotion, without much thought.

2. Provide context: You might have expected that Zynga would have provided some further background information about the three non-profits they’ve presented. But there’s almost nothing to provide any context around these causes. For clean water, for example, all users see is a generic water icon, which turns into a water.org logo when the moused over. Users don’t need a complicated set of information to read through, but some additional background would have added some real meaning. How about a picture of the people who are being helped? Or maybe a tidbit of information about where in the world the money is being used? Taking a page from Donorschoose.org or GlobalGiving.org would have made the causes much more real.

3. Allow users to step it up: Liking content on Facebook is a sure-fire way to allow users to show their support of something. Great. But what if someone really¬†wants to see that $100,000 get donated? Short of spamming their friends to Like the CastleVille page, there’s not much else a cause-advocate can do. So how about allowing users to buy more Likes buy pre-purchasing virtual items in CastleVille? Or give fans a CastleVille character to use as their Facebook profile pic to drive further awareness? At the very least, Zynga could have offered users the chance to donate to those charities directly, by providing links to each non-profit’s site right on the Facebook page.

Will Zynga’s latest cause campaign obtain the 5 million Likes they’re striving for? It’s too early to say, but at the time of this writing (about a week into the promo), there were about 300,000 fans. What do you think? What are some ways Zynga could have done a better job of integrating with causes?

3 Trends to Watch from the x.commerce Innovate Conference

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I attended the x.commerce Innovate Conference in San Francisco this week, hosted by eBay, PayPal, and Magento. The event focused on the myriad ways in which developers, retailers, consumers, and tech companies are innovating in ecommerce. Here are three things I noticed that both causes and businesses alike should pay attention to:

1. Payment systems are going to change dramatically in the next few years. PayPal, for one, introduced its PayPal Access API, which is very similar to Facebook Connect. Basically, a user can make a payment with PayPal with one-click, bypassing the normal sign-in/register hassles. Look for the PayPal Access button to appear on commerce sites any day. Furthermore, the winner of a startup competition held during the conference is planning to build a meta-identify that will tie together the multiple usernames and passwords the most people deal with. If done right, it should make payments and donations friction free.

2. The difference between online and offline interaction is blurring. More and more online services are being used to provide information about what’s happening offline (like Zong), and offline activities are being augmented by online tools (like Shopkick). This means that we will see new ways of blending together like retail, mobile payments and donations, check-ins, volunteering, search, deals, and so on, than ever before. Businesses (and charities) should no longer think about offline and online strategies as separate, but as part of the same marketing plan.

3. Giving is increasingly being treated as an integrated part of everyday life. For example, a service called Microplace allows you to allocate a portion of your savings portfolio to microfinance loans. They are pitching microfinance as an asset allocation strategy, just like your financial advisor might. And adding causes to retail drives results. Here’s an example: a tool of eBay’s called Giving Works allows sellers to donate a portion of the sale proceeds to a charity of their choice. Listings associated with Giving Works see a 34% increase in sales over their non-charitable charitable counterparts.

My concern with all of the innovation that’s happening in this space is that non-profits will get left behind. If you’re a retailer who’s interested in taking advantage of tools to help your business go social, local, or mobile, you’ll almost have a hard time figuring out what platforms and tools to use. But if you’re a non-profit, you’ll find that most of the apps and services out there are only useful if you have something to sell.

But tools for non-profits aren’t lacking because of technology; rather, there is a lack of innovation around structuring business models and payment systems that can truly serve the needs of charities. Who’s going to come up with the right models to make that happen? We’ll see…

Charity Navigator 2.0, or 1.1?

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In January, I wrote about the changes Charity Navigator was planning to make to its service. Now, nine months later, “Charity Navigator 2.0” is available. Is this really an entirely new version of the service, though? “v1.1″ seems like a more apt name. An explanation follows below…

 

The new version includes two main updates: first, it makes use of a new “Accountability & Transparency Score”. Secondly, it scores charities two-dimensionally, instead of solely on Financial Efficiency. The new system is designed to provide a more accurate and contextual version of what was offered before, which it does.

According to Charity Navigator, their site “attracts more visitors than all other charity rating groups combined“, so it’s great to see that they’re improving their methodology. However, the existing rating system is still too narrow. Without knowing how well both donors and beneficiaries are served, it’s difficult to make a well-informed decision about which charities are worth supporting.

For example, Charity Navigator’s system implies that a 4-star charity is more worthy of support than a 3-star organization. But what if that 4-star charity does a lousy job of keeping its donors engaged with the programs they’re backing? Or what if it’s services don’t actually provide meaningful, lasting benefit? None of that information is used to develop the score Charity Navigator assigns.

So until Charity Navigator can provide a more comprehensive methodology, donors should treat it a one tool among many to evaluate a charity, not as a blanket endorsement. Hopefully we’ll see those changes in the future.

What do you think? How will Charity Navigator’s new system affect the way you select non-profits to support?