How to do a simple lottery: randomizing entries for a contest

Here is the simplest method I know to receive submissions and fairly execute a randomized lottery for a contest.

Twice now, I have operated a lottery for those who wanted to play a video game on a skyscraper in Philadelphia. In 2013, 1,200 people requested to play pong and this April, more than 1,500 people asked to play Tetris. Fewer than 200 people got to play each year.

This is the method we used:

  1. Create a submission form using an email newslettering provider like Mailchimp — Now you have email addresses and phone numbers so you can contact winners.
  2. Promote it — Depending how good your lottery offering is might also help get submissions.
  3. Download the names, put them in a spreadsheet — Google spreadsheet or Excel will work fine.
  4. Assign each entry a random number — To do that, create a left-most column and then enter the random number code for the first cell according to the number of entries you received — in our case this year with 1,571 entries, that was =RANDBETWEEN(1,1571) — and then highlight and drag the code down for all entries. Now each entry should have a random number.
  5. Copy (Paste Special, Value only) those randomized numbers to a new left-most column — This step is easy to overlook but if you don’t do it, each entry will be associated with an always randomized number, rather than the first random (lottery) number you just associated it with.
  6. Put those numbers in order — Order by that column in numerical order (A>Z button) of lottery winners. Now you have your winners if you wanted them in order, like we did for playing spots. If you wanted just one winner, of course, you could just pre-determine a winning number and “pick it.”

In both cases, we reserved early playing spots for dignitaries, media and youth or other mission-driven community groups.

For event purposes, we told the lottery winners to arrive at a specific location by a specific time to check-in and then we text-messaged them when their playing time was up using a web based app.

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