Published: 11 May 2012

Giving is a game – who’s in?

Gamification. Perhaps the most pretentious and unlikely sounding term since social media (so by that rationale it will be ubiquitous in our vocabulary by 2013). But conceptually, I really like it.

And it’s nothing new; businesses, strategists, armies, and yes charities, have been employing elements of gameplay, incentivisation, reward and motivation for decades.

It works like this: if you have a Nandos loyalty card or Tesco ClubCard, you’ll be well-versed in revisiting these stores in order to collect stamps and points (’cos these mean prizes). This is gameplay, introduced to mean we have fun whilst buying products and staying loyal. Social networks like Foursquare personify the element of game (collecting badges, becoming ‘Mayor’ of a location) – a number of businesses are rewarding repeat customers with freebies and discounts.

And some men will have seen those painted-on flies in urinals so we – ahem – aim properly? Social responsibility and hygiene as gameplay.

This is rich territory for non-profits; ‘gamifying’ our supporters’ journeys could be the key to both attracting new people and also making them competitive in terms of how much they wish to give or get involved. Can we create a path to convert people from slacktivism (Level 1?) to activism (Level 2).

Living Streets caught my eye last week, for employing this model in a playful way. The charity’s Great British Walking Challenge asks users to sign up online and document how many miles they have walked (in one go, over a week – it’s up to you). It uses bright visual icons to depict what this equates; so, for example, I have walked around Wembley Stadium 4.6 times, saved 1.2kg of CO2, and burned off the calories of one large muffin. I’ve also been rewarded badges like ‘The Grand National’, because I have walked the length of the race track. Living Streets also uses a teamwork element, encouraging us collectively to walk the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Nice.

The execution is simple, with a low entry-level (you can use your existing Facebook account to sign-in, with the option of sharing your successes with your friends). They cover the other bases too: a Pinterest Board to share photos, a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag. It’s beautifully integrated. For someone that’s watching their weight, into exploring London and making it more accessible, and above all else mashing-up digital and offline innovation: I love it.

I’ve highlighted one case study, but there was a great discussion over on The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network two months ago that you might like to explore too.

You could already be using gameplay and reward within your own charities, yet (like my own organisation) you probably don’t have a lot of marketing spend to create something as developed as Living Streets has done. But consider all of the free platforms available to us, from Foursquare, to Twitter, to Flickr, Facebook and Pinterest. Narrow in on who your most loyal supporters are – take a good look at those databases of event participants, Facebook fans, and donors. Who might you want to nudge to do more? What could they do, where might you take them? Let’s get playful – the game is on!


Rob Dyson, public relations & online engagement manager, Whizz-Kidz

In his day job, Rob leads on all public relations for young people’s charity Whizz-Kidz, including corporate fundraising partnerships, youth campaigning, NHS partnerships and parliamentary work and most notably social media: building conversational, community engagement in Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Flickr. Rob blogs on third sector issues, Big Society, and digital comms and founded the Third Sector PR & Communications Network on Facebook.