why you should love the ice bucket challenge

August 19, 2014 |

You really should love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Really. I’ve done my best to sit on the sidelines of this one. But then I saw this meme (“Let me get this straight” boy) come through my social media feed, not once, not twice, but three times. And that did it. I can’t not say something.

You’ve seen the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, maybe you’ve actually dumped an ice bucket on your head. If you haven’t heard of it, I’d love to know how you managed to avoid it. Seriously. It’s been trending as strong as Ferguson which is some kind of real news. Google “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” and you’ll learn all you wanted to learn and then some.

This meme raises the issue of “how does the ice bucket challenge really help ALS?” Or maybe the question is more about waste. Or, why people are doing a dumb stunt instead of really helping?

When you think about it, how DOES the Ice Bucket Challenge help people with ALS? Or how does it even advance the cause of ALS research? Or how does it help at all?

Even worse, it appears that the Ice Bucket Challenge was originally about AVOIDING giving to charity. Yep. But you should still love it.

And yes, there are people dumping ice on their heads without mentioning ALS or giving to help ALS or any other charity.

Let’s start with a question . . . when was the last time you thought about ALS?

ALS, a tragic and scary disease, isn’t exactly a media darling. ALS doesn’t occupy a significant footprint in our national psyche. Yet. You’re thinking about ALS more today than you did last year, right?

So, people are talking about ALS and maybe thinking about ALS. That’s a good thing if your organization is linked to ALS. How much has it helped?

The ALS Association reported that it raised $13.3 million in donations from July 29 to August 17. And for comparison, the ALS Association raised $1.7 million in the same period last year. For those of us who spend our lives helping NPOs raise money, that’s a pretty good increase year-over-year.

Oh, and they managed to find 295,505 new donors through this stunt. You gotta know that most nonprofit leaders are quietly thinking, “Get me a stunt like that.”

Yes it was good for the ALS Association and those who suffer with the disease. Period.

Did people divert funds from other charities? Maybe, but that happens every day. I read a couple of bloggers who were hand wringing over “cannibalizing” donations. Seriously? All of us in this business of marketing and fundraising for charities and nonprofits are competing for donor attention. We’re all elbows and sharp edges trying to gain attention for the causes we represent. You cannot sit back and wait for your share of the charitable dollars to arrive. Some hungry, aggressive, passionate new organization will grab your donors’ attention and start getting your share. That’s the way things work.

Did the people who gave to the challenge make an terrifically informed, careful, knowledgeable decision about their gift? Maybe not. OK . . . actually probably not. But that’s not a problem. That’s an opportunity!

In 3 weeks, the ALS Association had a nearly $10 million increase year-over-year AND over a quarter million NEW donors! That’s like every man, woman and child living in Toledo, Ohio giving to your cause in less than a month.

Now the ALS Association has the opportunity to draw those nearly 300,000 new donors into the life of the organization, educate them about the cause and help those new donors understand the good they’ve done with an ice bucket, a smart phone and Facebook.

Don’t listen to those who are complaining that people who dumped an ice bucket on their heads didn’t do anything. That’s completely last generation thinking.

One worked-up cited source above made the closing statement that “next time you want to fight a deadly disease, cut a check, volunteer your time or go to medical school — anything but this [Ice Bucket Challenge].” The author could not be more wrong. Yes, all the things mentioned help but so did those who spread the word. Clearly the media attention and social buzz lifted the real life income for an organization actively fighting the disease.

Everyone who participated in the stunt helped ALS! There were dumb challenges that brought awareness AND dollars. As I think about, I’m helping right now, and I haven’t given nor have I dumped icy water on my head.

In addition to the 14 Ice Bucket Challenge videos that came through my Facebook feed in the space of about 45 minutes last night, was this post of “What An ALS Family Really Thinks About The Ice Bucket Challenge.” The author’s husband has ALS. She knows the day-to-day life of ALS. She calls it the “fight of their lives” and is fairly pumped by the awareness the stunt has provided.

Don’t throw rocks at the ALS Association. Don’t look down your nose at those who braved the icy waters on video or who gave or who spread the word just because “that’s all they did” or what they gave doesn’t fit your old-school philanthropic model.

In today’s world this kind of media attention and social reach, to say nothing of the dollars and new donors, is an event of almost mythical proportions. Let’s celebrate it. Learn from it. And maybe dump an ice bucket on your head.

OK, that’s what I think. What about you? Did you participate? Did you give? What do you think?

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: memebucket.com)

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5 Responses to “why you should love the ice bucket challenge”

  1. Shannon McAllister says:

    I think this was a brilliant marketing/fundraising strategy. I was challenged, but will not participate (no ice bucket because I happen to be sick right now…and no funds because it would require me to divert funds from organizations to which I already have a commitment). I did look up ALS, though, and am now a little better informed.

    Am I a little envious for my own grassroots, charitable organization? Of course! However, it also makes me wonder how I could use something fun & social to raise funds for the children & families we serve.

  2. Steve Thomas says:

    @Shannon — I haven’t done the bucket challenge either and I don’t have any excuses .

    Interesting that you did some research and learned about ALS. That’s a great outcome from my perspective. There are sorts of events and strategies (stunts) that you can build into your strategy. I think a key is to be sure it fits your ongoing strategies.

    Thanks for joining in!

  3. Brad Shantz says:

    Awesome post. The numbers don’t lie.

  4. I wonder how many of those that did the “ice bucket challenge for ALS” could tell you what ALS stands for? Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as the “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” that affects the never cells in the brain and the spinal cord. At least the “challenge” idea could intrigue someone to go look up the meaning. And raising $79.7 million dollars is not a bad way to start a campaign. Now I wonder what they will do with the money – research?

    As you might know I am behind the cause of hunger, homelessness and addiction. There have been numerous campaigns behind hunger – like “skip a lunch” or try to live on $5 a day. Not too many people are rushing to sign up for that challenge of giving up something they love like food.

    I would love a campaign that gets people’s attention to just be aware of those suffering in the world from hunger besides showing sad ads on the TV with emotional music. At least the bucket challenge let someone do something to participate and give them the ability to draw friends into it.
    What a great idea – and that social media really can work!

    Well Onecity – here is my challenge – help me build a challenge to save lives.

  5. Steve Thomas says:

    @Carol– thanks for your thoughts. And you’re 100% right most of these new donors to ALS aren’t aware of the disease or the cause. And that’s the cool opportunity to see how many can be converted to supporters…a tricky but wonderful opportunity.

    You can bet there are scammy agency types who right now are selling “The Next Ice Bucket Challenge” to their unsuspecting clients. As you know, you can’t create viral. And you can’t create something that goes crazy like this did…all you can do is make it contagious and give people a recipe to follow. (See http://www.oneicity.com/2014/08/1-big-lesson-from-the-als-ice-bucket-challenge/ )

    The day I saw the Ice Bucket Challenge, I began working on opportunities for our clients. That’s what we do.

    Thank you for joining in the fun.

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