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Pepsi Refresh Project Still Going Strong

By on Monday, June 13, 2011

The Pepsi Refresh project continues to award grants on a monthly basis ranging from $5,000-$50,000. Lucky projects winning funds have included scholarship recipients, civic leader education, a community playground, veterinary services and much more. Even a classic wooden roller coaster was restored, thanks in large part to the contest.

Launched in 2009, the project’s goal was to drive significant social engagement by democratizing the power to turn good ideas into action. Pepsi committed more than $20 million in grants to empower individuals and organizations to turn their ideas into reality and improve communities. To date, the project has received 80 million votes.

While the contest offers great visibility to organizations seeking to raise funds and awareness, those organizations are also highly motivated to drive voters to the site. Many organizations issue news releases requesting the public and community’s help to get votes.

A quick search on Google news reveal competitors like the Jensen Beach Youth Athletic Association, a Children’s Museum Garden, the 4-H Green Devils and their Operation 12 Days of Christmas Project, the Harrisville Free Library, and the list goes on and on. Representing a boatload of media placement for Pepsi, but also for the nonprofits and their projects.

Competing in a contest can require organizations hungry for cash to enlist their supporters, volunteers and Facebook fans in driving up the numbers. Pepsi promised to do additional investigating after it was alleged that organizations were using a paid service to buy additional votes for the contest (sad indeed if Mr. Magic was really operating at the behest of nonprofit organizations trying to win funds).
In a news release about the project’s award-winning PR team, organizers discussed how the Pepsi Refresh project signaled a shift in thinking about marketing for corporate communicators. Instead of spending millions on advertising, this campaign stimulates coverage of Pepsi as a do-gooder in the community and energizes communities around the country to engage with the brand. In the process, the nonprofit organizations are also given some incentive to share what they are doing in the community. As a communicator that often sees nonprofit organizations struggling to successfully share their work with the community, I applaud that.

At the same time, the plethora of new stories about organizations vying for Pepsi Refresh grants are also sobering. Because the project relies on votes, a project grounded in best practices that’s not presented as well as another, may be hurt in the running. The Pepsi Refresh project raises some big questions:

  • Is this a new era in nonprofit and donor relationships – where nonprofits are expected to bring something – such as eyeballs and actions for votes – to a donor to get funding? What about the smal project that doesn’t yet have a support base but that may be a great idea?
  • As much as I love the participatory nature of this project and the fact that it incentivizes nonprofits to share their work, are the most worthy projects really getting funded?
  • As other brands and companies try to emulate the success of the Pepsi Refresh project, will contest fatigue set in for both nonprofits and their supporters?
  • While competition exists in the nonprofit community for donors and media, it is often under the surface and not out in the open. Will the competition for votes in contests cause a deterioration in the traditional collegiality and partnership building ethos of the community?

Everyone wants to know what you think.

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