Martha Stewart is going to Svalbard

And you can go, too. But there’s a catch.

To accompany the lifestyle guru to Svalbard, you must enter and win a contest. The grand prize is impressive: roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations for two, a private tour of the Global Seed Vault, the chance to dine and hobnob with Martha Stewart and undisclosed “leading food scientists and policy makers,” and assorted Svalbardian outdoor activities.

So, what’s the catch?

Martha Stewart Svalbard contest

The catch is how the contest is being administered.

Visit the contest entry page and you’ll discover that you have to pay to play. “All it takes is a $10 donation to support The Crop Trust’s work in protecting the seeds that will guarantee our food supply. If you want to donate more, you’ll earn extra entries to win,” the instructions explain.

But that’s good, you might opine! The Crop Trust is a legitimate non-profit working for a legitimate public good. This international organization has been preserving crop diversity and protecting global food security since 2004; and in 2008, the Crop Trust partnered with the Government of Norway and NordGen to open the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. That Martha Stewart would participate in a fundraiser for the Crop Trust is admirable. And it makes all the sense in the world that, after touring the Global Seed Vault and raising awareness of its global benefits, she might be moved to ask her fans to donate $10 to support one of the organizations responsible for its existence.

But the Crop Trust isn’t collecting those $10 donations. A company called Prizeo is.

Prizeo is a privately-owned online fundraising company that was founded five years ago, prefers to work on charitable events and causes helmed by celebrities, and takes a 20 percent commission on the funds it raises.

While 20 percent is a lot, this commission is nowhere near as high as the fees charged by many professional fundraising companies. These organizations keep, on average, 50 percent of the money donated to the charity during a campaign — and sometimes as much as 85 percent. It’s a practice that’s perfectly legal, as Charity Watch noted back in 2003.

“According to a recent Supreme Court case, Madigan v. Telemarketing Associates, it is okay if fundraisers keep nearly all the money raised as long as they don’t falsely claim that a larger portion of contributions is going to the charity.”

To be fair, Prizeo does more than simply collect donations. The company bills itself as “a one-stop shop solution to running a sweepstakes,” which includes payment processing, all legal and accounting services, and prize fulfillment.

Still, even 20 percent is too much, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals: “Percentage-based compensation and finder’s fees may encourage abuse, imperil the integrity of the voluntary sector, and undermine the philanthropic values upon which it is based.”

The fact of the matter is, you don’t have to donate $10 via Prizeo to enter Martha Stewart’s contest. If you dig through the official contest rules, eventually you’ll find this little gem: “To enter the Sweepstakes for free without donating to the Trust, visit and log in to the Sweepstakes Website, print the free entry form (“Form”), and complete the Form by hand using blue or black ink.” The webpage with the free entry form eschews time-consuming passive aggressive overtones for straightforward shaming: “If you choose to use the free entry route you will not be supporting a good cause.”

Nonsense. You can donate $8 to the Crop Trust and give $2 to Prizeo, a company that has already taken its cut from more than $10 million given to charitable causes. Of course, there’s another caveat: “Prizeo takes a standard fee of 20% of the net proceeds for each prize campaign after transaction costs and fulfillment expenses.” Since they get their 20 percent cut after expenses, it’s possible the Crop Trust will see far less than $8.

Or you can simply give $10 directly to the Crop Trust, “supporting a good cause” as Prizeo notes (but in the fullest way possible) and enter the sweepstakes for free.

If you want a shot at seeing Svalbard with Snoop Dogg’s best pal, put your name in the hat for free here:

And make sure to donate to the Crop Trust here:

Oh, and Canadians, nota bene:

Per Prizeo, “If Potential Winner is a resident of Canada, such Potential Winner will be required to correctly answer Sponsor’s mathematical skill-testing question without any assistance in order to be verified as a winner and to be eligible to receive a prize.”

I thought I was done. But I have many questions now …

the delve