Five key findings from the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge | Miratel Solutions

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5 things nonprofits can learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Viral nonprofit fundraising via social media has probably peaked this year with the tremendous success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and yet I’m sad to read some people being negative and building a critical backlash raising qualms about the way funds are used, whether people are donating after sharing videos and even whether water is being wasted. For example, I can think of a hundred more inspired ways that we could reduce water consumption and the Ice Bucket Challenge won’t make my list.

Regardless of these criticisms what can’t be denied or overlooked is the outstanding popularity of a campaign which has now raised almost $100 million for The ALS Association since July in addition to raising awareness of the charity to previously unseen levels. What all of this truly demonstrates is that social media can provide a huge advantage for nonprofit fundraising campaigns but it’s not as simple as create an idea and unleash it to the online world, an engaged audience foundation has to be in place initially or those efforts will be going to waste. It’s also quite apparent that a certain ratio of these new donors will be supporting ALS for the first and only time but again that isn’t the point nor the determining factor behind what should be branded a great idea. Beyond the funds raised over the last few months the priceless element is awareness being raised for a nonprofit that wasn’t on many peoples radar before that first bucket was emptied.

So is there much to be learned by other nonprofits in terms of building awareness and actually generating funds as a result of this rather unique viral campaign? The short answer is of course yes, these five factors struck me as being especially relevant.

Simplicity is key – The beauty and perhaps the vital ingredient of the Ice Bucket Challenge was just how simple it was. Get a bucket, fill with ice and water, allow water to cool, nominate three others to take the challenge, pour contents of bucket over your head and make a donation. Anything more complicated or a challenge that had options may have limited the success to a huge extent.

No value without an engaged audience – It doesn’t matter how great (and potentially viral) your idea is if you don’t have an engaged audience to begin with. The larger your online audience the better,  and more importantly than that the more engaged the audience are the better chance of a fundraising campaign quickly developing its own momentum via social media.

Remember the cause – Donors might love the idea and be very willing to take part in a viral campaign but make sure that the cause and message is kept front and centre. It would have been a shame if people just knew the recent ALS initiative as the ‘Ice Bucket thing’ but keeping the aim of the challenge and its association with ALS in the spotlight meant that it quickly became known as ‘The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’.


Jimmy Fallon pours bucket of ice water over Lindsay Lohan on the Tonight Show

Create some urgency – Within reason try and create a fundraising campaign with an ‘end date’ so that timely participation is part of the attraction. A key component of the success of this campaign was nominating others to take part within 24 hours, another great approach is dedicating a specific month to your campaign.

Have Fun – It definitely helps to make it fun to generate excitement around an idea, sound out your plans with others to see how they react. If they all tend to smile or laugh then chances are the concept has legs and will elicit positive reactions. You also have to make the idea very easy to get involved with and remember that not everything has to be a ‘challenge’ which we may see become a new trend. If challenges are badly planned they’ll never gain momentum – would we even be discussing the ALS Juggling Three Tennis Balls Challenge?

Regardless of whether you think an idea can grow through becoming viral online the test can only be completed by taking the first step of experimentation. Social Media can support fundraising by creating energy for a cause that both builds awareness and drives fundraising forward, remember that having your audience already engaged with your brand is the critical first step and from that point any efforts you make are inherently a good thing even if they don’t snowball at the first attempt.


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Miratel Solutions is a Toronto call centre, eBusiness, and letter shop mail house specializing in professional fundraising services including PCI compliant inbound telephone fundraising, outbound telephone fundraising, online fundraising, lottery fundraising services, donation processing and receipting and direct mail fundraising services. We are committed to our CSR business values in all our business decisions and advancing the missions of the nonprofits we proudly serve.

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