Ice Bucket Challenge Was a Hot Idea
Did you take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Even if you didn’t, I’ll bet you at least talked about it.
Sure, the crazy-viral, social-media-based fundraiser has its critics. But come on! It was creative. It was fun. It was engaging. It was nothing short of a phenomenon! Wow!
Countless nonprofits use social media to create buzz. But when asked the tough question about how much money their social-media campaigns raised, they stare at their shoes and mumble about engaging younger audiences. The ice-bucket social-media campaign raised, at last count, $115 million and added more than 3 million new donors to the ALS Association’s file.
The funny thing, of course, is that the concept didn’t even start with ALSA. The true origins of the challenge and how it eventually became such a moneymaker for ALS and, specifically, ALSA are unclear, and you can find a number of stories that purport to be the real deal. (Check en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Bucket_Challenge for some background.)
But still, once it started catching on, the success was a brilliant and all-too-rare combination of public relations and fundraising.
Let’s start with public relations. People can’t give to you if they don’t know you’re there, and people won’t give to you until they are persuaded of the importance of your work. PR’s job is to (a) build awareness of your organization and (b) position you as a valuable contributor to society — hence, worthy of support.
Most social-media campaigns do a great job of building awareness of a cause or an organization. In other words, they can be great PR. But let’s admit that they are rarely great fundraising.
Nonprofits need to stop telling us that if we like them on Facebook or click on a link, we’re helping cure a disease. We’re not. What helps cure a disease is if we donate money so they can fund life-saving research.
Tom Harrison is the former chair of Russ Reid and Omnicom's Nonprofit Group of Agencies. He served as chair of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.