an Open letter to Chase about their Community Giving Initiative from by Nathaniel Whittemore of

Dear JP Morgan & Chase,

You’ve recently made waves in the social change community with your Chase Community Giving initiative, a $5 million Facebook giveaway contest. Unfortunately, you’ve also demonstrated some pretty bonehead anti-transparency tendencies which have hurt your brand with exactly the people you were supposed to be getting excited. Further, you’ve demonstrated a lack of understanding about how nonprofits really work. You’ve got an awesome opportunity to literally be the coolest contest there has ever been, but you’ve got some work to do.

First, lets be clear about your motivations for the $5 million giveaway. It is almost certainly true that your staff care about community involvement and giving something back. It is also almost certainly true that your marketing department and leadership determined that that caring, combined with the distribution power of the internet, could be great for brand building at a time when banks are somewhere between sour milk and sinus infections in the public eye. In short, Chase cares, and they *really* want us to know about it.

This is pretty much the way branding efforts around doing good happen. A genuine interest in doing good comes together with a genuine interest in the ability to sell the company as one that cares about good, and it happens. The key is making sure that the marketing actually reflects the company’s practice – or perhaps the other way around.

You have committed two major boo-boos with potentially far ranging consequences for the success of your branding efforts. Both of them belie a problematic anti-transparency that just doesn’t work in the digital world, and a fundamental lack of understanding of the real cost of nonprofit work.

Boo-Boo #1: No Leaderboard

The first mistake you made was that you didn’t have a public leaderboard. The contest was all about getting the most votes, and your calculation was, I’m sure, that if groups knew their total but didn’t know how their total compared to others, they would push harder and harder. To take it even farther, you actually took down individual charity’s totals with a few days to go to “build excitement among the broadest number of participants.”

Chase, I don’t know if you’re reading, but let me be clear about something:

This made you look like jerks.

Sorry, it had to be said. By not having a public leaderboard, you demonstrated your lack of understanding of the cost to nonprofits of a) the time it takes to ask people to do things for you and b) the social capital cost of asking for favors. Your lack of this one piece of transparency made groups go out on a limb to research their competition (which took an immense amount of time away from the good work that they do outside of their fundraising apparatus) and put them in the unenviable position of having to ask people to help without clear information about how likely that help was to actually achieve anything. All those groups that didn’t win actually probably lost some good will.

Read the rest here

The moral of the story is this: while social media is in many ways an “open” form of communication, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. It also doesn’t mean that there there aren’t any rules of engagement, which Chase did not follow during their Community Giving campaign.

In any contest driven by the use of social media ¬†there needs to be clear rules that lay out who all the players are, and what the process is for qualifying or not qualifying. It is also up to the company in question to let people know where they stand at every stage of the competition…if that is really what this campaign was about. It’s been argued that the whole Community Giving campaign was really just an advertisement for chase…which is another post and another story entirely.

In my last post, I talked about the recent study that companies that use social media are more successful…but perhaps we need to also take a look at how responsible companies are when using social media to create a base or to attract partnerships with non-profit organization in the name of being “good corporate citizens.”