Google’s Touch Technology Powers Community Initiative
They may have looked like simple posters being put up around town, but behind each one was a cutting-edge “digital paper” technology that transformed a philanthropic voting program into a catalyst for engagement.
It was all part of an effort by Google to give away $5.5 million to Bay Area nonprofits by inviting local communities to vote on the causes that mattered to them most, either online or by pressing directly on the touch-to-vote posters. Partnerships with food trucks and local businesses brought the innovative digital posters to grassroots level, ultimately doubling the reach and impact of the program from the previous year. (And making us all wonder why voting for a president has to be so dang complicated.)
It started in early 2015, when The Google Impact Challenge invited Bay Area nonprofits to submit their ideas for how they wanted to make their neighborhoods stronger—and how Google’s financial support could help them achieve their goals. Key issues at stake included education and prison reform, creating career opportunities for minorities, growing small businesses through microloan programs, offering free legal aid to those in need and helping at-risk kids graduate.
In September, a board of advisors selected the top 25 finalists and then asked the community to vote for the top 10. Once the top 10 were selected, the integrated marketing effort to bring the voting into the community kicked off. The four organizations with the most votes were announced in October, and each received $500,000 in funding.
In addition to the digital posters, the 2015 program included a print campaign, a reengineered and simplified online voting website and video coverage. Thanks to the easy-to-use digital posters, Google was able to go hyper-local to target the communities that the nonprofits were directly impacting. From mom-and-pop shops and bookstores to food truck festivals and professional sporting events, the posters quickly became the talk of the town, serving as conversation starters in the communities where they were placed, and driving votes for the program. The buzz around the posters became so powerful Google’s partnership with weekly food truck festival Off the Grid jumped from 50 percent participation to 100 percent participation in 2015. They even ran out of posters for food truck vendors that wanted them.
By the time the last vote had been cast, the program had generated more than 400,000 votes in three and a half weeks—doubling the number of votes from the previous year and boosting engagement around the program in the communities where it mattered most.
Access to technology can often be a barrier to participation for those in in-need communities. In this case, it leveled the playing field. Well played.