By B.L. Ochman
JP Morgan Chase & Company’s 2012 Chase Community Giving program began in 2009 as one of the first corporate philanthropy efforts to try engaging with online audiences in new ways. It has become a model of what – and what not – to do in corporate philanthropy.
Chase, which awarded a total of $5 million in prizes to 186 crowdsourced charities on September 19th, has once again come under fire for alleged voting issues and technical glitches and contested last-minute disqualifications.
As soon as the contest launched, many of the charities launched campaigns in a variety of communication channels to persuade supporters to vote for them. Accusations grew about some charities using fake Facebook profiles, and even paying for votes. And this year, a technical glitch caused Chase to incorrectly designate several charities as $10K winners – enraging both winners and losers.
Sadly, even charities that won money in the contests ended up disgruntled and wondering whether the effort they have to make with their limited resources was worthwhile. “What a disaster this contest was for everyone!” said Alex Aliksanyan, Founder and President of DogsInDanger.com, a national 501(3) charity that helps save the lives of dogs scheduled to die in shelters, and which won $10K.
Since 2009 Chase Community Giving has provided a share of more than $20 million to 500 charities in 41 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. To date, more than 3.8 million Facebook users have “Liked” the Chase Community Giving page (which you have to “Like” in order to participate, a practice known as “Likegate.”)
This year, more than 1.5 million online votes helped 196 charities win a share of $5 million in prizes awarded in the 2012 contest. Chase’s rules specifically prohibit cheating, as do Facebook’s rules.
Chase is not alone in receiving accusations of fraudulent voting in its philanthropic efforts. The NY Times reported on similar allegations against Pepsi in 2011. But Chase seems to keep allowing the same issues to remain unsolved year after year.
Chase: cheaters are not tolerated
When asked how Chase monitors cheating, Chase spokesperson Erich Timmerman said “Chase actively monitors voting for improprieties with technology and a third party organization and will decrement any votes we deem to have been cast by improper means.”
Dogs In Danger’s Aliksanyan, said, “[our charity] and other reputable charities for causes like children’s cancer, the homeless, etc. are being overwhelmed by the cheaters, unable to compete. Charities are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars which are critical to their activities. Unscrupulous cheaters are stealing these much-needed funds under Chase and Facebook’s noses.”
Could Chase really scrub the cheating voters from the final results? The contest ended at midnight on September 19, and the winners were announced at 9:52 a.m. on September 20. The IT professionals I spoke to said they could scrub the votes of cheaters, but it is difficult and time-consuming.
Can cheaters be stopped?
Andrew DeFiore, CEO of Answer YES Interactive says that actually scrubbing the fakes would ultimately have to be done by Facebook. “Depending on what the criteria is for identifying a “fake” profile, they could use the [Facebook] API but would still have to defer to Facebook to actually “scrub” the profile. Unless, of course, they are affiliated with Facebook, then this would be easier to do,” he explains.
Chase reverses decision and makes nobody happy
In addition to the flap about voting fraud, Chase mistakenly announced that several companies had won $10,000 and then said they had not.
At first, Chase simply blamed it on “a technical error,” saying on its Facebook page “This error has since been resolved, and all charity pages are now displaying accurate information.”
This response led to a hue and cry from a large group of contestants, worried that all the confusion would reflect poorly on their organizations, and eventually to a concession by Chase, who wrote:
“To make this right,” Chase told its 3.8 million Facebook fans, “we will be donating $10,000 to each of the eligible charities affected.” The 644 comments on that post were a mixed bag of congratulations for doing the right thing and cries of ineptness.
Among those mistakenly announced as winner and then told they had not won, and then compensated anyway were Critter Camp, All Ears Bassett Foundation, and Project Snap, Spay, Neuter and Protect.
Understandably, the organizations told they’d won $10K, and then had their names removed from the winners’ list, worried about damage to their reputation. Said a representative of Critter Camp, “this mistake of theirs caused damage to each organization’s ability to raise funds since our supporters think we won 10k, and it damages the integrity of the organizations as well people will think we did something wrong to cause us to lose the $10k”. (The money was ultimately awarded.)
o It gets pretty dirty. One charity has been known to hire scammers to vote up the tally on another, hoping that one would be disqualified!
o It’s true that you can buy fake profiles and votes for very little money, and it’s not 100% clear that you won’t benefit if you do.
Lessons to learn from Chase
o Facebook is not a secure site for nominations or voting. Assuming that Chase knows how to keep its online banking site safe from fraud, they should consider running their next contest on a site they control.
To take advantage of Facebook’s billion members, Chase could have run a contest teaser on Facebook and driven entries and voting to a more secure site.
o Acknowledge screw-ups openly – Chase should have acknowledged clearly, and early –on Facebook page and all the social networks where the contest was promoted – that they knew cheating was happening and explained the measures they had in place. Organizations stand to gain from engaging in productive conversations with both positive and negative responders.
o Don’t be in such a big hurry to announce the winners. “Every system has its cheats. It’s impossible to prevent fraud unless someone manually checks every single vote that’s cast,” says Caimin Jones, founder of Genius StartUp.” Chase could scrub the votes, according to other IT professionals I asked, but the process is difficult and time-consuming.
Chase supposedly scrubbed the 1.5 million votes of cheaters and then issued a press release and site updates announcing the winners in less than 12 hours from the contest end.
What’s the rush? If they’d taken a couple of days and done it right, more people might have ended up singing Chase’s praises.
o Show us where the money goes. Chase has a bunch of wonderful videos that show what charities have done with the money won in earlier years, but those are quite hidden.
o Take viable steps to prevent cheating next year. Online contests are difficult to do well. Chase really needs to re-think the approach and come back more organized next year.
At the very least, email confirmation should be required to confirm the address of each voter. While it’s still possible to cheat, requiring a live response makes it a whole lot less likely.
The bottom line: Chase seems to repeat the same mistakes year after year. Seems like time for some reform by the bank.