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casTruly, you would have to be living in a cave to have been spared exposure to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the unbelievably successful awareness/fundraising campaign for the ALS Association. (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is frequently referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”  It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually leading to the patient’s death.)

Why People Love the Challenge

  • It’s easy, social and daring. Who doesn’t love to see ice water dumped on someone you love, respect, hate or have seen in high heels at Michael’s on East?

  • You can make it a family event. We love the videos with parents, kids, and ice buckets…or better yet, kids challenging their parents.

  • It’s something anyone can do. (Except John Annis?)

  • Peer influence is an intrinsic part of the campaign. Drawing your colleagues, rivals, and friends into this—especially when you know they are trying to quietly hide from it all–is irresistible.

  • It’s impossible to argue that the Challenge is raising a LOT of awareness about ALS and a LOT of money for ALS.

Why People Criticize the Challenge

  • “How can socially conscious people waste water like this?”

  • “I don’t get the connection to the ALS mission.”

  •  “Some people are making the videos but aren’t donating. It’s not either/or.”

  •  “What’s the likelihood that new donors who have no connection to ALS will give again?”

What “The Giving Partner” Perspective Might Be 

  • We have loved seeing this campaign because it has garnered so much diverse participation: young people, old people, people of every ethnicity, famous people, eccentric people, “normal” people. And people have fun while they are doing it. That’s the viral appeal. Critics are lurking around the corner of every good and great effort, just because. Let’s enjoy the enormous success here!

  • ALS organizations everywhere are coming into sudden cash they couldn’t have imagined long ago. This is why building capacity from the ground up is so important. A committed board of directors, strong internal controls, sound policies, a strategic plan, and other financial, governance and planning ingredients are vital whether your organization is a baby or a giant. Things can change quickly. Be nimble and prepared for greatness with a stable, thoughtful underlying structure.

  • The question about whether new donors with no connection to ALS will give again is an interesting one. And it’s a question we ask after each Giving Challenge in relation to some of the socially inspired gifts that were made. Clearly some people are just participants in the fun. But for many others, the big answer will be generated by the organization itself. What will it do to engage the donor? Will the donor hear stories of hope and progress? Will she know how her dollars made a difference? Will she receive the right number and type of follow-up communications going forward?

  • Equally creative tactics have been locally deployedSnooty’s Lettuce Challenge at the South Florida Museum this summer generated some amazing buzz. An awareness and fundraising event rolled into one, the organization leveraged community leaders who participated in an unconventional food challenge that related to the mission. It created some powerful energy during a matching campaign–another notable model for us to reflect upon!

  • If we offer a Giving Challenge in 2015, we anticipate some extra creative campaigns that will no doubt be inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge. The wheels are turning… But why wait? You could try your own version at any time using the best of what you observed.

Other Must-Read Pieces About It

-Susie Bowie, Director of Nonprofit Strategy
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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Short answer: it is.

The enthusiastic follow-up: yes, yes, yes.

Remember That Board Member Duty?

We cannot forget that charitable nonprofits exist for the public good and are not owned by an individual or group of individuals. Each nonprofit board member must exercise the “duty of loyalty,” placing the interests of the nonprofit before personal or professional concerns when serving, therefore avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

It’s Not that Complicated

We hear from all sorts of well-meaning folks who (unintentionally) complicate the concept of conflict of interest. In a basic example, it’s the kind of thing that should stop a board member from voting on an issue when there may be financial benefit to herself, her spouse, her family, her company or another organization where she may serve as a volunteer leader.

Who Wants to Know, Anyway?

When your organization files its IRS Form 990 each year, the Internal Revenue Service asks you to indicate whether or not your organization has a conflict of interest policy. You don’t have to say “yes.” But if you don’t, it looks a little shady, yes?

Local organizations in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties with a presence in The Giving Partner are also asked if they have conflict of interest policies right on their profiles.

Surprisingly, 32% of nonprofits with profiles indicate they do not have a conflict of interest policy.  We are pretty sure that some of them may have adopted a policy years ago, perhaps when founded, but current leadership does not remember or can’t find the document. In any case, we can do better than this.

A new development in the State of Florida will make conflict of interest junkies jump up and down. The recently approved changes to the Solicitation of Contributions Act require 501(c)(3) nonprofits to adopt a conflict of interest policy and to provide annual certification of compliance with the policy by all directors, officers, and trustees of the organization.

Two Simple Actions for Nonprofit Boards Everywhere

  • Adopt an organizational conflict of interest policy that is frequently reviewed by board members and staff members.
  • Require board and staff members to complete a simple disclosure form each year certifying that they have reviewed the conflict of interest policy and sharing conflicts and potential conflicts of interest.

It is very likely–especially in this community–that your board members may have conflicts from time to time. Many caring individuals and their businesses are deeply intertwined in the work of more than one charitable organization. The conflict of interest policy will provide the necessary guidance to ensure that board members disclose conflicts and potential conflicts and do not vote on related issues if they arise in the boardroom.

And Finally…

The best charitable organizations out there focus on what is best for the missions they are upholding every day. They protect the charitable intent of the donors and funders who make their missions possible. So upholding a good, trusty conflict of interest policy is just natural.  And to add to the glory of it all, it’s not rocket science.

The National Council of Nonprofits has an excellent set of conflict of interest resources, including sample policies and sample annual disclosure forms.