If you watch any late night TV, you’ve probably seen the American Express commercials with Sheryl Crow, Ellen DeGeneres and others promoting the new Members Project. For every card member who registers at MembersProject.com, American Express will donate $1 toward a $5 million grant to a single project, selected in part by member voting.

How can this work for your organization? Even if you don’t win the money, you could conceivably put your ideas in front of some new donors.

Simply getting your project listed won’t be enough. They’ve been taking nominations for a month and when I just registered as a member a few minutes ago, there were already 5,649 projects listed. To stand out in the list, you’ll need to create a basic marketing campaign.

For starters, pick the right title. Some of the projects listed today have such vague titles that I doubt anyone will click on them. Tell us in 5-6 words what your result would be, or at least what action you would take. Looking at the projects listed just today, I’m willing to bet that “Water Well Project for Orphanage” and “Put CAN in Canvas – Free Planet of Plastic” will get more clicks than “Single Parent Family Development Project” and “Global Security Fund.”

Then you’ll have 1,000 characters of space to describe the project, which is roughly 125 words. Use that space to inspire. Explain what you’d do, but more importantly, explain the difference you’ll make in terms that appeal to hearts and minds. The guidelines clearly state that they are looking for achievable, innovative projects with broad, positive impact. Treat it like any other grant proposal and follow the guidelines! And why not include a short call to action to card members? “If you believe in this idea, please rate our project now and leave a comment.”

Be sure to spell-check and proofread your title and description before submitting it! You can’t edit it once you submit it. I see lots of typos in listings and I don’t think that bodes well for getting $5 million.

Next, you’ll need to generate some buzz about your project. Get all of your strong supporters who are card members to login, post a comment on your project, rate it, and send it to a friend (all easy to do on the site, once they locate your project). Talk about the project in all of your other communications with members, supporters, and donors. Use other viral techniques like blogs, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to generate interest in your project.

American Express will narrow the list down to 50 projects on July 3 and member voting will begin to start narrowing down the list, with the winner announced on August 7. I’ll keep you updated on the contest and see what communications lessons we can all learn from the finalists.

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