Ice Bucket Challenge Fundraising

Nonprofit fundraising: What is the answer?

Just dump a bucket of ice water on your head and you’re golden. Your nonprofit will raise tens of millions of dollars in one month. OK, maybe not all nonprofit fundraising is that simple, but what is the answer?

Nonprofit fundraising saw a new spectrum of awareness this month with the creation of the “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

My Facebook newsfeed (and everyone else’s) has been full of videos of people dumping buckets of icy water over their heads for two weeks now and it doesn’t appear to be slowing. Friends who had never posted a video made one just for the occasion. “Friends” I didn’t remember I was connected to, have popped up in live action on my screen. People who had sworn off Facebook and all but deleted their accounts, came back just to fulfill their ice bucket duty.

How do you measure success?

There have been plenty of negative comments to go along with all the hype, with critics claiming that dumping a bucket of ice on your head doesn’t help ALS. Those people obviously don’t have jobs in fundraising or marketing. Those of us who do, understand how important awareness is to any organization. The person with that bucket of water may not have donated, but any of their 1,000 Facebook friends that saw their video might, and any of each of their 1,000 friends. In the end, all we really need to see is the results. As of yesterday, The ALS Association had raised over $94 million in a month, compared to $2.7 million for the same period last year.

Why was the Ice Bucket Challenge so successful?

For anything to go viral, many pieces must fall into place at exactly the right time, and for The ALS Association, they certainly did, but the unpredictability factor is still out there. What was it about this situation that worked so well?

As managing editor of the social newsroom at Innocean USA, Rob Moritz told his conclusion, “The key from a social media marketing perspective is the fact [that] it only takes a few seconds to do — or watch — and generates consistently entertaining, super-short-form content that’s as easy to replicate as it is to share.”

It is worth noting a number of other factors as well.

Ease of participation

In addition to the short amount of time required, the materials are simple. All you need is access to a bucket, water, and a cell phone.

Built-in growth

The growth for the campaign is built-in because each person who participates nominates three other people.


Most people can’t make a video go viral from nothing…but Jimmy Fallon can. He was among the big names that brought it to the attention of the masses and with a Twitter following of over 1.5 million, and of course The Tonight Show, at his disposal, the audience exposure was extremely valuable.

Don’t have easy access to the host of The Tonight Show? How about a local news anchor or radio host who would be happy to promote your cause?

Social media

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the help of social media. It is one of the best marketing platforms for divulging an immediate message. It reaches a large amount of people the moment you send it. If your organization doesn’t have a strong following on social media yet, let your advocates know about your social channels. Put the URL in all of your promotional material from posters to emails to direct mail to let anyone interested in your cause know exactly where to find up-to-the-minute information. Then keep it up-to-date.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

I’ve already seen a couple of imitators attempting to jump on the #challenge wagon with their own twist. Dog Park Publishing started the “#kissedbyapit Challenge,” asking dog lovers to post a photo of themselves getting a wet smooch from a pitbull and to donate $5 to the animal shelter or rescue organization or their choice. It’s cute, quick, and a cause close to the hearts of many (assuming you have access to a pitbull).

One thing to keep in mind though, is that creating content with the exclusive purpose of going viral seldom works. As all experienced marketers know, you can use every rule in the marketing book, but the human factor means that the results of any campaign aren’t apparent until it has been tested. Aim for quality and remember what you know about your audience success, before catering to an anonymous online audience.

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