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#Ice Bucket Challenge: Why It’s Viral, What We’re Learning

August 28, 2014

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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