Crowdsourcing in Pepsi Refresh Project is a taste of things to come. Part II: The Debate

By Collin Lessing, JVA Marketing/Communications Coordinator and
Ashley Kasprzak, JVA Vice President of Design and Innovation

Ashley’s response to Collin’s March 19 blog post:

I recently read Collin Lessing’s blog about the Pepsi Refresh Project. It reminded me of Chase Bank’s recent contests through Facebook. Although Pepsi is demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), I am unconvinced that the best organizations will be selected by popular vote in this contest.

Collin wrote that it would be cool if more corporations embarked upon this type of giving. To delve more deeply into his assertion, I convinced him to respond to some questions. He’s always up for a civil discourse and he doesn’t ever roll his eyes!

Ashley: Why does crowdsourcing for charitable purposes get you excited?

Collin: That’s a great question, Ashley. The reason I’m excited about the “crowdsourcing” model in the Pepsi Refresh Project is because it gets people thinking about philanthropy and the endless possibilities that are out there to help their communities. It’s empowering people to think about what they can do.

It’s common for corporations to invest in campaigns that promote their corporate social responsibility. You may see an oil and gas company run a commercial that promotes their efforts to develop cleaner fuel, or maybe they talk about their work to avoid spills. It’s admirable that these corporations are engaged in philanthropic projects, but as a marketing guy, I find myself asking, “What kind of motivating impact do these ads have on viewers?” My guess is very little. The Pepsi Refresh Project on the other hand, is serving the same purpose as the traditional CSR commercial but motivating people to take action. It’s that unique social dividend that gets me excited.

Ashley: Do you think that the majority of folks will vote for the organizations that have the best stories? I mean the ones with the most emotional pull?

Collin: It’s difficult for me to predict what people will vote for. Emotional pull is probably a factor. I know when I begin to think about which organization to donate to, the image of puppies accompanied by the song “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan enters my head. Emotional pull can be a powerful thing.

People also may be motivated by causes that are significant in their own lives. Then of course, there are key influencers in social media circles who have the ability to sway people’s decisions.

There are a lot of potential factors, but emotional pull will likely carry some weight in the decision.
Ashley: Do you envision that these contests can help organizations with proven outcomes rise to the top?

Collin: I thought my blog post might raise the eyebrows of some evaluators. Obviously, this kind of contest is less dependent on proven outcomes than the traditional grantmaking process. With that said, an organization that has proven outcomes demonstrated through evaluation should market itself in Pepsi’s contest campaign. Organizations with both an emotional pull and proven outcomes will have an advantage over the ones just submitting an idea. They won’t match up.


Ashley: With a burgeoning nonprofit sector, it’s important for supporters to invest in causes that are well run, effective and sustainable. Is it a corporation’s responsibility to vet which groups are worth getting into the contest?

Collin: Another good question and this also is an area where there’s room for improvement in contests like these.

There is a vetting process in the Pepsi Refresh Project that’s handled by Global Giving but given the spirit of the contest, I don’t think it’s very intensive. I would like to see some kind of vetting process incorporated into the eligibility requirements of contests like the Pepsi Refresh Project. One idea is a graduating scale of eligibility that could be applied to the different levels of grants. So to be eligible for a $50,000 grant, an organization may have to demonstrate its effectiveness and sustainability whereas the smaller grant awards may have less rigorous requirements for eligibility.


Ashley: OK, on the positive side, sometimes contests can create good buzz for the organizations on display. For charitable entities that decide to dive into contests like Pepsi Refresh, what tips do you have for them to get the word out?

Collin: Social media is going to be key. Charitable organizations can use their networks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-newsletters and blogs to promote their cause. They should also enlist their employees, volunteers, board members and clients to be ambassadors for their cause, promoting it to their own personal social media networks.


Ashley: How can groups measure their return on investment for contests like this?

Collin: To measure the return on investment, an organization will need to begin with a marketing plan. This should include assigning roles and duties, and budgeting the time needed for each duty to be completed. The hard costs associated with a campaign like this are little to none so it’s a matter of tracking the time and resources that are involved in executing the campaign. By creating a plan in the beginning, organizations applying will not only be positioned to be more strategic, they’ll be better able to track their time and resource investment.

If you want to invest in this debate further, comment on our blog; and here’s a link to another blogger on this same topic:


This entry was posted in Commentary, Fundraising, Grantwriting, Online fundraising, Philanthropy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Crowdsourcing in Pepsi Refresh Project is a taste of things to come. Part II: The Debate

  1. Dana Rinderknecht says:

    I am curious if these projects are getting exposure to new supporters and not just to their current support system. Isn’t this just another popularity contest?! OR is it a lesson in the powers of social media?

    As far as the question of are these well run, sustainable nonprofits, my guess is that voters have some level of belief that Pepsi has done the vetting for them or why would they put their name along side the organizations.

    • Ashley Kasprzak says:

      Dana, Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yesterday I heard a radio commercial about the Pepsi Refresh Project and it included a dialogue during which a man says, “Hey, can I get funding for my sustainable, eco-friendly tattooing business?” The Pepsi rep says, “Well, maybe. (chuckle, chuckle) it depends on how people vote.” That made me think that Pepsi is leaving the vetting up to voters. This is an interesting one to follow! Ashley

  2. Pingback: Iana Malaga Newton » The good will hunting of social media campaigns

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