Reflections on the Ice Bucket Challenge and “Viral” Fundraisers

Reflections on the Ice Bucket Challenge and “Viral” Fundraisers

Reflections on the Ice Bucket Challenge and “Viral” Fundraisers

The Ice Bucket Challenge. In case you haven’t followed nonprofit or social media news over the last two weeks, individuals are pouring buckets of ice water on themselves. This action has primarily been to support the ALS Association and it has gained immense popularity as celebrities, athletes, and company executives have taken part. It reached a tipping point when ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter volunteer Pete Frates, who has ALS, shared a family member’s ice bucket challenge on Facebook and Twitter.

Since the challenge has taken off, a number of articles critical of Ice Bucket Challenge have been published. Ben Kosinski wrote an article on Huffington Post that related the #IceBucketChallenge to slacktivism. Kosinski writes,

We’re using the #IceBucketChallenge to show off our summer bodies. We’re using it to tag old friends. We’re using it to show people we care. We’re using it to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re using it to promote ourselves, in one way or another.

Jacob Davidson of Time, whose father passed away from ALS, discusses concern of the overall impact the challenge is having and how campaigns like this can be better developed,

In an age where hashtag activism and information-free awareness campaigns are becoming more and more common, we should be very conscious of how to make viral trends as useful as possible.

As the news cycle evolves, there are also articles criticizing those that are critical of the challenge. Some of this is due to clickbaiting headlines like Kosinski ‘s “#IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping”. While this has lead to an angry comments section, the greater thesis in Kosinski and Davidson’s articles are valid. Some of the people participating in this challenge for not doing it for charity or ALS. That is the nature of a “viral” fundraiser or awareness campaign.

In November 2009, Medline Industries and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center partnered to create a“Pink Glove Dance” video to raise awareness of breast cancer. The video became popular and groups of people recorded similar videos. If you search, “Pink Glove Dance” on YouTube, you will find a lot of people dancing with pink gloves on. Some videos are connected to fundraisers for breast cancer awareness. Some videos are just people dancing with pink gloves on. Any “viral” campaign is going to attract individuals who are unaware of the original purpose of the video or are participating for self-serving reasons.

The existence of these individuals, does not detract from some the positives of the Ice Bucket Challenge:

  • The ALS Association reports that over a two week period they have raised $7.6 million in donations – that compares with $1.4 million raised during the same two-week period last year
  • Google searches for ALS have increased significantly
  • While we haven’t found this confirmed from the ALS Association, it is likely that page views on mission-focused webpages like, “What is ALS” and “Symptoms of ALS”, have increased
  • The ALS Association has 145,918 new donors over the last two weeks– this new donor base can be utilized for a number of different engagements

What does this mean for nonprofits and the staff and volunteers that support them?

The most immediate byproduct of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s success is that every nonprofit staff person involved in communications or income development will inevitably hear an executive or leadership volunteer say, “We need to create our own Ice Bucket Challenge”.

You will see more organizations and individual fundraisers developing challenge-based peer-to-peer fundraising. If your organization is interested in developing a similar challenge there are four key points to keep in mind.

Make it Simple

A challenge is usually a difficult task. It’s critical that over-ambitious fundraisers don’t create something that is too challenging and unsafe. Create something that is safe and simple. Everyone should have access to whatever they need to perform the challenge.

Make it Personal

This challenge was extremely personal to Frates and his family. Frates is very active with fundraising for the ALS Association and shares his story often. While Frates learned about the idea from other ALS supporters who had participated in the challenge, the concept itself didn’t start with ALS. A “viral” cold-water challenge has existed for months and wasn’t initially connected with any sort of fundraising campaign.

Some articles that are critical of the Ice Bucket Challenge have used Matt Lauer and Martha Stewart as examples of celebrities that have taken part in the challenge but haven’t mentioned ALS. Matt Lauer’s ice water bath took place on July 15 and he challenged Stewart on that day. Frates shared his video on July 29.

While the Wall Street Journal reports that the ice bucket dumping started on the golf circuit, many attribute the first connection from the cold-water challenge to charity was in June by Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts. Several NCAA women’s basketball programs began participating to raise funds and awareness for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Their hashtag was #Chillin4Charity and an article on their website describes how Butts created it.

Another reason these campaigns went “viral” is that it was individual people asking for help via social media, and not the organization directly. Social media is a much better platform for fundraising when your participants or volunteers doing the asking, instead of the organization directly.

All of this information highlights that anyone can participate in a challenge. But, if individuals share the reason they’re passionate about the cause they’re supporting – like Frates and Butts did – your campaign will greatly increase the potential for success.

Provide Instructions

Those that are critical of the challenge, especially Davidson’s article, mention the need for a stronger connection to the cause. This is very important to ensuring the long-term success of your challenge-based peer-to-peer fundraising.

Ask your initial fundraisers to specifically mention the organization, why it’s important to them, and link to your donate page.

Using Mark Zuckerberg’s challenge as an example – the positives are that he links to the ALS website and clearly connects the challenge to the cause. Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention that he plans to donate and refers to the ALS Association as the “ALS foundation”.

You won’t have control over what people write and say. But you can do your best to ensure they have suggestions on what to include.

Have Realistic Expectations

Your fundraising challenge will not end up on the Tonight Show. That is the reality from which you need to operate. Setting high expectations and ambitious goals is a great motivation for work, but your expectations also need to be connected to reality. Develop goals for the number of participants, new donors, and measurable social media impact. This particular challenge reached a its tipping point due to Frates’s connection in the sports world as a former professional baseball player.

These tips will help you think about how to implement similar challenge-based peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. If you’re looking for other articles and tips to inspire you, I suggest our Tumblr. Below are a few links from the week.

  1. Tom Watson, Forbes contributor, discusses the advantages and challenges of fitting #GivingTuesday into your year-end planning.
  2. In an amusing and strange experiment Mat Honan of Wired liked every Facebook post he saw for two days. His article describes how his feed evolved and the affect it had on his friends’ feed.
  3. Rick Cohen of NPQ shares five ways to get your unsolicited grant proposals read.
  4. Does your nonprofit have a retail fundraiser? Your campaign may entirely depend on the retailers cashiers. Jennifer Askjaer and Sally George provide seven tips that encourage employees to be ambassadors for your retail fundraiser.
  5. Do you need sample matching gift letters? First Giving has you covered.
  6. What is your biggest phobia? The Canadian Cancer Society has created a crowdfunded fundraising program that allows fundraisers the opportunity to confront their fears. Gabriel Beltrone of Adweek highlights the program.

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