Playing Games with Social Good: The Next Big Thing in Philanthropy

Attendees gather at GivKwik’s GIV.NYC 2016 event.

By Jennifer Dawson

Given the sports analogies flying around, I was tempted to call this post “lessons philanthropy can learn from baseball and hockey” — and it wouldn’t have been a stretch, given the connection between games and giving.

In fact, social good, philanthropy and community engagement can all benefit from adopting principles from online games — including challenges, competition, fun, measurement and rewards, but it rarely if ever does.

Until now.

Colin Duetta is founder and CEO of Xocial — pronounced soh-shuhl — an online community that connects people and organizations to causes they care about then inspires them to take action using the principles of online gaming. Jason Rosado is CEO and president of GivKwik, an organization that connects companies, causes and communities by offering turnkey solutions for cause marketing and employee engagement.

With connection and social good at the forefront of both organizations, it’s no surprise they united for a common cause — GivKwik’s GIV.NYC 2016 event in honor of Giving Tuesday.

Their partnership has made them the My Two Dads of philanthropic engagement, bringing together a platform for gamifying goodness (Xocial’s) with a platform for helping brands achieve greater social impact (GivKwik’s). The offspring of their technological union are taking their first baby steps toward changing the world of philanthropy.

I sat down with them to find out more.

Jennifer Dawson for TriplePundit: I was getting some background from Colin yesterday and he described your relationship as a love story. So, how did this love story start?

Colin Duetta: I don’t know if I’d describe it that way, Jason. She’s ad libbing already!

Jason Rosado: Well, we’re definitely dating.

CD: If we could only start by saying we’re both happily married!

JR: I was introduced to Xocial through a friend who attended South by Southwest and I saw a fit right away. If you look at the life cycle of a company in our space, the first, second and third innings of the game are about building out the tech infrastructure, the database, the brand, the credibility.

After that, your fourth, fifth and sixth innings are strategic. You have this platform that can do these things, now what do you want to add on top? Gamification was something we’ve wanted to do, for sure. But we didn’t have the time or the bench strength to get into designing all the game mechanics. Xocial came along at a really nice time, when we could come together around a specific campaign for Giving Tuesday.

CD: I would echo a lot of that statement. We felt very strong in our convictions about bringing gamification to social good actions but as we looked to our fourth, fifth and sixth innings—this is all going to be about baseball, Jason—we knew we had to address where the donation component would come from.

We wanted to bring in the engagement but didn’t want to take responsibility for the donation aspect. What GivKwik does with pooled philanthropy has really taken it to the next level. So there was this natural fit.

JR: Since we’re partnering with Canadians here, I can use my favorite Wayne Gretzky quote. He always said he skated to where he thought the puck would be, not to where it was. With this partnership we could skate to where the puck would be, which is Millennials, a highly targeted audience for the future of philanthropy. Millennials are very familiar with and attracted to game mechanics and game interactions.

3p: What were you trying to accomplish with the Giving Tuesday campaign?

CD: From our side, it was a concept validator. This was going to be a learning experience. Even though there’s the big goal, in pilots it’s so important to not overreach. That understanding was there between our two organizations from the get-go.

JR: I agree 100 percent. From our perspective, it was our third year doing an event in New York City on Giving Tuesday, where we get 10 nonprofits to pitch on a stage for the chance at a $10,000 grant.

I never wanted this event to be people sitting in their seats watching somebody on stage and then going home. I wanted it to be very interactive and for people to understand the power of the network, where the 200 people in the room become two million people online.

We thought that adding the gamification touch to the campaign would drive engagement, keep people coming back to the online portion of the campaign, and introduce the idea of reward and competition at the individual level, not just the 10 nonprofits on the stage.

It was the perfect proof of concept. It validated ideas we’d had about the best approach to take.

CD: For us there was an unexpected concept validator, which was using Xocial at a live event. It was the first time we’d done it. Having that “we’ll get through this together” attitude meant we were able to deliver that live scenario with a certain comfort.

We saw that not only can Xocial be used, but that it can be successful. The best part was our Twitter integration. People really are so focused on the power of the social network and we could contribute to telling social stories with the automatic tweeting of the challenge submissions.

JR: To piggy back on that, Xocial generated a lot of additional content documenting the event. We had our own photography and video team, but the user-generated content from the competition between participants exponentially increased what we had.

3p: Were there any early bumps in the road?

JR: Both parties are fairly visionary, so it was making sure that we weren’t biting off more than we could chew. Colin’s team was great at documentation and communication and tracking requirements and following up with my team about what was required. If we needed to jump on the phone we did.

CD: I don’t want to use the word “startup,” but you expect those types of things. We’re dealing with high-end technology, a live event, a pilot, so the openness between the teams was critical. Jason and I were able to convey the vision and then step back and let the teams engage with each other under the open umbrella.

We had to scale back the grand vision. Jason’s team was strategizing, organizing and delivering a very complex event and we were the bolt-on pilot. We had to understand that. I’d say the bumps in the road strengthen the partnership. To know that you can go through that kind of experience and have the results we did, what could we do with more time and resources?

JR: [Laughs] There were a couple of places where it was obvious that we were building the bridge between our two platforms as we were crossing it. It was a good exercise in pushing both our teams to get the platforms where they needed to be to support this type of event.

3p: Was there something that surprised you along the way? Moments where you went “Wow, I can’t believe we did that,” or “Wow, I really didn’t expect that!”

JR: I can’t think of a wow. I can think of a phew! Like “Oh wow, we did actually pull that off in the timeframe we hoped for.” [Laughs]

CD: [Laughs] The a-ha moment for me was when we showed up at the live event. That’s when I understood what these guys were trying to accomplish and how xocial could engage on the floor. Having been in software for 16 years, there’s two ways these things can go. There’s the uptight “We counted on you guys to do this, this was our expectation” or the “Let’s team up and get this thing done.”

It’s amazing what happens when you approach problems from that second perspective. When the first couple of snapshots came up instantaneously on the leaderboard I stopped sweating a little bit. Then when we got our first dozen people engaged, that was our second brow wipe. And then it was time for some beers.

JR: I’m not sure that Colin expected us to ask him to roll up his sleeves and handle that aspect of the event. To his credit he did it without flinching and even got his wife involved as well. We were super excited about what we accomplished at the end of it all.

CD: Yeah, my wife Megan was my big story. She’s an actress at heart but just the other night we were talking about the stresses of being on the arm of the corporate guy at these different events. When she has a role, it’s so much better for her. At the Giving Tuesday event she could be the Vanna White to the Xocial component and it was hilarious to see. She really dove in. It made it that much more fun.

Attendees gather at GivKwik’s GIV.NYC 2016 event.

3p: How was the GIV.NYC program enhanced by your partnership? You’ve mentioned innovation and authentic storytelling so far. Anything else?

JR: We could take our platform from a simple donor platform to something that was gamified. It wasn’t just “go to this website, browse around, vote for your favorite charities.” By plugging in the Xocial component you could win something—which is still relatively unheard of in the space. That drove engagement from our perspective.

CD: I’ll echo that. But it takes a platform like GivKwik to make our little contribution shine.

3p: Indulge me for a second. I’d like you to pretend the other person isn’t here and tell me what it’s like to work with him.

JR: You go first. [Laughing]

CD: [Laughing] I come from over a decade’s worth of custom IT app development experience, and client management has always been at the forefront of what I do. You try to find out what’s important to that person and meet expectations.

Jason and I don’t know each other super well, but from a business perspective, there’s a bit of a kindred spirit there. We’re both upfront and honest in our expectations. When you have that from your leadership it boils down to your teams.

JR: Aw shucks. [Laughs] For me, being a born and raised New Yorker I have to be conscious of how I might come off, perhaps a bit brash and to the point. And on the flip side, I’m not sure if Colin is a born and raised Canadian, but the first thing Americans think of is that Canadians are very nice.

Ultimately, you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than Colin. We were kindred spirits—both skating to where the puck was going to be. Part of the fun of working in this space, not just with Colin but with others, is that there’s competition but it’s very friendly competition. We could’ve looked at each other and said, “Xocial could end up doing what GivKwik is doing and vice versa, we shouldn’t talk to each other.” But we saw strength in partnership. I’m glad we took that risk.

3p: Any specific stories related to Xocial and GivKwik that made you laugh? Warmed your heart? Gave you additional ideas?

CD: We showed up in New York in a torrential downpour that lasted two days and I think we took seven hours of Ubers. When we first arrived at the live event—a little late and carsick—it was literally T-minus 2 hours to the event. It was stereotypical Manhattan, you couldn’t find the door, the elevator gave me pause to say the least, but that’s just the culture in New York. It was amazing to walk in there to see the calm, cool and collected GivKwik team.

JR: For me the most exciting part of an event is knowing you’re going to produce it and the rest becomes an ongoing state of anxiety about all the details. Who will be on stage? What will the run of show be? Who will we partner with? What will the online campaign look like?

The single best thing you can have when you’re producing an event is something you don’t have to worry about. I had my own nervousness about whether the Xocial aspect of the campaign would take. Once things got rolling, the screen was filled with completed challenges and pictures and the Twitter feed was blowing up—ultimately we reached 1.3 million people with the #GivNYC hashtag.

3p: What lessons did you learn from your work together that you’d share with someone else thinking of using Xocial integration for their program or event?

CD: We’ve learned just how much we can share opportunities with each other. There’s so much GivKwik does that Xocial isn’t in the business of doing, and they do it very well. As we grow our networks, we’ll find opportunities where Xocial isn’t the fit, GivKwik is. Any event with a pooled philanthropy or review-and-vote approach, that’s GivKwik. We can offer our little piece around gamification and help deliver a more exciting event.

JR: Game design is very nuanced. It really focuses on the motivations of the players and an essential baseline of fairness and realistic achievements. There’s a lot of thought that goes into that, and while I would love to spend all my days working on it [laughs], I have the rest of this platform to continue to build.

That’s why the partnership with Xocial made so much sense. The lesson learned for a potential client is to really think about what motivations, incentives, rewards and point scenarios will make the user experience as engaging as possible. That’s not something you just pull off the shelf. You want to put yourself in the shoes of the user, the player, the event attendee to try to create that experience. That’s something that Colin and his team did so well for us.

3p: Where do you see the puck going next in your relationship?

JR: We do have another campaign in the works and we’re thinking of bringing in a Xocial component to add an extra level of competition and engagement. We’d also like to integrate Xocial features in our employee engagement campaigns. We’d like it if gamification became part of our services at GivKwik.

CD: Xocial’s primary business is around partnerships, not only with social good organizations but also forward-thinking technology companies. This next endeavor with GivKwik will allow us to move forward with the relationship and the technology. I think we’re taking social good philanthropy and employee engagement to the next level. This is where the dream is. It’s not just where the puck’s going to be next—it’s where the puck’s going to land in the net.

For a recap of the event in NYC, check out the video below.

Images courtesy of GivKwik

Jennifer Dawson is a freelance writer and community activist who has covered subjects as diverse as community gardens, industrial insulation and men’s socks.

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