What philanthropy can learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge

September 8, 2014 at 9:05 am Leave a comment

headshot of suzanne allenA strange phenomenon occurred this summer, and it’s only beginning to show signs of slowing. Its appeal is the combination of grassroots charm and our culture’s love of selfie-based technology. And I’ll bet as a reader of this blog, you have or you know someone who has participated in the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

According to the August 29 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in just a few weeks this sensation has raised more than $100 million for the ALS Association and has generated nearly 1 million new philanthropists to this organization. Compare that with the $19.4 million in total contributions they received last year!

Matt Lauer ice bucketThe Ice Bucket Challenge first received media attention at the end of June on the Golf Channel program, Morning Drive, when a live, on-air Ice Bucket Challenge was issued. A few weeks later, television anchor Matt Lauer accepted Greg Norman’s Challenge and was doused with a bucket of ice water on NBC’s The Today Show.

Presidents, CEOs, musicians, actors, athletes and many of your friends and mine have taken the challenge. There’s a really cute video of Kermit the Frog accepting the challenge and one of my daughter and a son-in-law that were so funny. But I digress.

The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants have to record a video of them in continuous footage. First, they are to announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by pouring ice into a bucket of water. Then, the bucket is to be lifted and poured over the participant’s head. Then the participant can call out a challenge to other people and the participant should make a donation of $100. Whether that’s always the way it happens is up for debate and the subject of another blog.

But the real question is: “What can we learn from this marvel of selfie technology?” Here’s what I think:

  1. People will give to a cause they care about if they can identify with it. But the message has got to be short and sweet: Raise money for ALS and get wet.
  2. It’s got to be fun. Who didn’t laugh as their friends screamed like children when the icy water hit their heads? We really like to laugh and be entertained. According to one researcher, by maintaining an aura of lightheartedness, you allow people to connect with your organization in an authentic way.
  3. It’s got to be easy. If it was hard to make the donation, or if it involved a stamp or something signed by witnesses, you might still see the videos, but ALS wouldn’t have 1 million new donors and $100 million in the bank.
  4. It’s got to be quick. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge rules say that the participants only have 24 hours to complete the event in order to challenge others. They’ve realized a simple marketing strategy: give people a deadline and the initiative will become a greater priority. And they used multiple platforms to get the word out. Use social media, it’s really quick!
  5. Give people an opportunity to feel really good about helping others. This campaign was particularly poignant because no matter the size of the donation, folks felt a shared sense of unity with other people – those famous and rather infamous.

That’s what it’s really about, connecting with others in a meaningful way and feeling good about it.

Did I mention Homer Simpson took the Ice Bucket Challenge?

suzanne signed in blue ink

Suzanne T. Allen, Ph. D.



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