As the Internet grows, so do the number and cleverness of contests and other online fundraising opportunities. Are they worth the effort. It depends.


The Kilauea Point Natural History Association (Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii) eagerly accepted an invitation from Hampton Hotels to enter the 2011 Kilauea Lighthouse in its Save–A–Landmark contest (http://www.hamptonlandmarks.com/).


Anyone can nominate a landmark for consideration and everyone is encouraged to vote online to select the winners The Kilauea Point Natural History Association pulled out all the stops “to get the word out and facilitate voting in as many ways as possible,” said the association’s executive director Jane Hoffman: a Facebook page, postal and email, a voting station at the visitor center, posters around Kauai Island, “bag stuffers” about the contest with every purchase at the visitor center bookstore.


Enthusiasm for the contest spread quickly. The local electric company included voting information with every bill. The Hawaii Community Foundation offered an unsolicited and unrestricted grant to the Association. The general manager of a rival hotel chain put a voting station next to his employee lunch room.


Voting lasted a month; the work paid off in many ways. Not only is the Lighthouse one of the five national winners in 2011, but record numbers of people clicked the “Donate Now” buttons on the Web sites for both the lighthouse and the Friends — and the Friends gained members in ten countries.


It was well worth participating, said Hoffman, even though it was exhausting and occurred at one of the busiest times of the year for the Association. “But I found time to vote every day, using my Blackberry to cast votes while waiting in stores, airports, waiting rooms, even during TV commercials.”



Vote Now! Vote Often!

The Pepsi Refresh Challenge (http://www.refresheverything.com/) and Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) also require online voting. Students from Allamakee Community High School in Waukon, Iowa, wanted a $5,000 Pepsi grant for a clean–up project at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The students produced a YouTube video about a plastic bottle being dropped from a school backpack, rolling along the road and ending up in the river. Although the group did not win the contest, refuge biologist Tim Loose says a lot of students learned about the need to clean up the river. Loose says the challenges that appear to win have a large group of well–organized people willing to vote every day.


“Yes, you need to vote every day!” emphasizes Loose.


Kickstarter involves online donations rather than votes. Teens at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, wanted to raise $3,000 to bring the 50th anniversary photography exhibit from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the museum. The Youth@Bruce Committee not only raised more than their $3,000 goal online, they received another $2,000 in donations sent by mail, enabling them to mount the photography exhibit and help plan a variety of related educational events. There was an “ah–ha” moment when they realized some of their hard–earned funds needed to be spent on the incentives they had offered contributors — museum memberships, tickets to a special event, copies of Arctic Sanctuary: Images from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


On a very local level, Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows in Maine is a regular write–in candidate for a Bangor Savings Bank contest to distribute funds to community organizations. Friends president Jan Beckett says the benefit is getting Friends involved and trying to do something for the refuge. “May never win but still worth the try!”