2 min Read
August 25, 2009

Contests as a win/win

Recently two organizations mentioned to me that they were thinking of having contests–one to come up with a new name, the other to arrive at a logo. Both are organizations that work with kids and thought it’d be a neat way to engage some of their core constituents.

I love the idea of engaging clients or program participants in a creative endeavor that can represent the organization. What’s more powerful, for instance, than an annual report illustrated with artwork created by kids in its program?

In 1996, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America hired us to design a book for parents called “Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention”. To illustrate the book, we asked kids from very diverse backgrounds to draw their vision of a drug-free world. The drawings were moving and profound: images of clean, safe parks, families smiling and sitting together, and empty prison cells. The drawings were so powerful the guide received a Presidential Design Achievement Award (and I almost got to meet Bill Clinton!).

But I must say, the idea of a contest to do something as critical as rename the organization or develop a new logo makes me nervous. While the ideas that will be submitted will, no doubt, be interesting, they will likely lack professionalism or strategy. At best, a creative kid will come up with something brilliant and the many others whose work wasn’t selected will be disappointed. At worse, the ideas submitted will be unusable and the organization will be in the difficult situation of explaining why they can’t use the anything submitted.

There’s also that ‘you get what you pay for’ variable in all of this: a volunteer’s work (no matter what their level of professionalism or experience) can be hard to direct, particularly on something where refinement may be everything, such as an organization’s name or a logo.

Young children’s self-portraits can speak volumes and help communicate the impact of your work more effectively than words.

Instead of using a contest for something as central to your organization’s identity as its logo or tagline, consider instead something less competitive and more ‘win, win’. Give the folks in your programs an assignment where you can use a large volume of what they produce. Here are a few ideas:

  • Request short poems on a theme such as ‘hopes for the future’ or ‘why I’m glad I participate in this program’ and have the submissions designed and printed on a large format printer, like wall paper, then redo your lobby with it.
  • Request self portraits and frame them in your board room.
  • Request drawings or writings on 8×11 paper on a theme related to your work and make a book for major donors using color copies of the most inspiring.
  • Ask for short autobiographies and post them, with images, on your website.
  • Have clients work collaboratively on a mural for a public room (perhaps your lobby, conference room or programs space) that reflects your mission.

Looking forward to hearing what your organization does.