Two Key Takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 12.19.42 PMIf someone said you could raise $220 million dollars in about a month’s time without asking for a single penny, would you believe them?

Well that’s exactly what happened for the ALS Association during the the Ice Bucket Challenge last year.

As fundraisers we’ve had dreams about the ice bucket challenge, studied the ice bucket challenge, loathed and envied the Ice Bucket Challenge, but mostly we’ve wanted to know—how did they come up with that?

Well the truth is: they didn’t.

At the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) Annual Meeting on January 28, I was part of an enthusiastic crowd that learned from fundraisers at the ALS Association how the Ice Bucket Challenge came about. It was started by three young men with ALS who wanted to give the world a “wake up call” that ALS does not affect just the elderly.

The ice bucket in itself is meant to be symbolic – literally a wake up call, just as splashing cold water on your face in the morning wakes you up.

In the fundraising world, it was definitely a wake up call! Everyone is still talking about the phenomenal results, which raised $115 million for the national association and an estimated $220-240 million globally for the cause.

The most incredible thing is that the ALSA never asked for a single donation throughout the long summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge—other people asked for them!

What does this mean in the fundraising world? I see two key take-aways.

  1. Donor engagement is the new “acquisition.”

The Association acquired 2.5 million new donors through the Ice Bucket Challenge, solely through peer-to-peer engagement.

It was never about the money – it was about being inspired by a cause. When challenged by a peer, even Bill Gates participated in the challenge – that’s powerful! The ALS Association was smart enough to pay attention and to make it easier for their donors to donate once they came to the webpage. They made the donate button bigger and red. That’s it.

And while some in the fundraising world doubted that the Association would be able to keep these new donors 600,000 of them have already said it’s okay for the ALS Association to continue communications with them. Plus the ALS Association has plans to further engage with their new donors through efforts like a donor survey.

  1. The debate over whether your organization needs a strong social media presence is over– you need it. End of discussion.

The ALS Association was ready for the ice bucket challenge because they already had a strong social media presence. People with ALS tend to rely heavily on social media and the web for their social connectedness.

Because the Association was connected to and engaged with their donors already, they were ready to ride the challenge wave. As an additional bonus, the challenge made a whole new age bracket aware of the ASL Association, opening up a younger donor base for the organization.

So what can we expect from the Association next? They are focused on efforts to end this deadly disease. And they feel a strong sense of responsibility to the ALS community, to all 2.5 million new donors who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge and to the three courageous gentlemen who started the whole thing.

“We must keep the momentum rolling.” And we’ll all have to stay involved ourselves to see what happens next.

– Posted by Amanda Marcucci

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