The Members Project from American Express

Have you heard about the Members Project from American Express?

It’s a social good promotion built to encourage people to “come together to achieve something amazing.” Card members are invited to submit ideas for projects in the areas of arts and culture, community development, education, environment and wildlife, and health. Anyone, including non-cardmembers, can discuss, campaign for, and then vote on their favorite projects.

Here’s a recent ad for the campaign:

American Express will award $2.5 million dollars to the top five projects ($1.5 million for the winning project). Last year’s winning project helped provide two billion liters of clean drinking water for children, and the second, third and fourth place projects helped plant trees, restore national parks, create wind and solar powered generators and connect people with public schools to help out with classroom needs.

Currently, 427 projects have been submitted. The project in the lead, “Adopt a Classroom. Support America’s Teachers,” has 1,584 votes.

A win-win-win campaign for AMEX

Site visitors win because they get to do some good by nominating and/or voting for the causes they believe in.

The causes win whether they are one of the five finalists or not—this campaign is being supported by a significant ad campaign reaching millions of people. These causes will gain exposure they might not otherwise receive.

And of course, AMEX wins. This isn’t new territory for the company—they coined the phrase “cause marketing,” after all. But this campaign takes it to a whole new level. AMEX has used social media to create social good and engaged cardmembers and non-cardmembers alike.

What do you think of the Members Project? All good or all hype?

Comment below to weigh in.

Subscribe to this feed.

. . .
Special thanks to Super Intern Marie Kyle of Outsource Marketing for her assistance with this post!

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Jeff Bloom says:

    When I first heard about Members Project I was quite excited about the possibilities. Now, I’m frightened and upset.

    I just submitted a proposed project to this competition. Throughout their site, they prominently display the following: “Your ideas. Your decision. Our money.” However, as I found out from a colleague after I submitted my project that the “Terms and Conditions” contradict their statement about “your ideas,” etc. In fact, once you submit a project all ideas and intellectual property are owned by American Express. They can take your project and do it without you. In fact, if a project does not win an award, the “idea” of the project is still owned by American Express. So, a person or group could get funding elsewhere and start the project, only to be sued by American Express for taking American Express’ idea (which, of course, was not their idea).

    The actual statement (which is not particularly easy to find) is:

    “User Content/Assignment: You irrevocably assign to American Express all rights (including copyrights) in any ideas or expressions of ideas that you provide on or through the Project Site, including without limitation the Project Submission and all comments, suggestions, graphics, ideas (including product and advertising ideas), and other information or materials you submit on the Discussion Boards and otherwise on or through the Project Site (collectively, “User Content”), all of which will become and remain the exclusive property of American Express, including any future rights associated with such materials. American Express and its licensees and designees shall have the right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, create derivative works from, distribute, and display the User Content for any purpose (including without limitation for purposes of advertising, publicizing, and promoting Members Project, other versions of Members Project, and/or American Express or its affiliates), in any media whatsoever, now or hereafter known, throughout the universe in perpetuity, without compensation (monetary or otherwise) or notice to you (collectively, “Usage Rights”). Notwithstanding the foregoing, you (and applicable third parties) shall retain all ownership rights to any Support Material you provide (other than the audio recording of your personal message, which shall be owned by American Express), but hereby grant to American Express and its licensees and designees all Usage Rights (subject to any limitations specifically identified to American Express in writing with respect to any third-party element incorporated in the Support Material).

    “You release and waive all claims against the American Express Parties with respect to any intellectual property or other proprietary rights, rights of privacy and publicity, rights of attribution, or any other liability under the governing law of the United States.”

    American Express can use this “ownership” statement to censor projects. In another section of their Terms and Conditions, they state:

    “It cannot directly promote or speak negatively about any particular faith, political action, legislation or party, or promote or encourage the violation of any law, as determined in the sole discretion of American Express.”

    Maybe I’m being overly paranoid, but my first submission was rejected, because I criticized schools. Each participant has to answer four basic questions in 500 characters or less for the primary part of the project proposal. The second question is: “What problem does you idea address?” Part of my original answer was: “(a) children are turning off from school and learning, (b) children’s innate intelligence and creativity are not being encouraged.” The only change I made was to replace the above statement with: “(a) children are not engaged in school.” The proposal was accepted after this change. This change basically shifts the “blame” from schools to children. However, my question is that if you ask for a problem statement, then shouldn’t one provide a problem? What part of this Term and Condition did I violate? Was I “speaking negatively” about a political action or legislation? If I was speaking negatively, isn’t that what living in a democracy involves? How can a democracy grow? For that matter, how can any institution, organization, or business grow and develop in positive ways, if it doesn’t ask for and seriously consider criticism?

    After pondering these implications, I wrote to American Express to withdraw my project and they said they couldn’t do it. The actual response was, “Once a project has been submitted and approved on the site, it cannot be removed. However, we will ensure that your project is not considered for the Top 25.” However, the following statement appears on their site in the Questions and Answers section:

    “Q: Can I withdraw my project?
    A: Yes. If you withdraw your project, it will be noted as withdrawn on the site. Once you withdraw a project, you may submit a new project if the submission deadline has not passed. You also may recommend another project to support, if you wish.”

    I found this to be shocking. My professional work is tied to my project, and this presents a huge problem, as I’m sure it does for many others. However, beyond my personal interests (which, in this case, are about helping children develop to their fullest potential), I am concerned about all of the other great ideas people have for helping others and the environment. What happens to a proposal that helps (Syrian) Iranian or Iraqi children that are hungry or are encountering some other problems or a project that promotes world peace. If American Express (and I’m not saying they do) disagrees with these proposals, even if they have been accepted into the competition, they still own the idea. They can then prevent such ideas from going forward.

    From my perspective, American Express is acting irresponsibly.

Leave a Reply