Ice Buckets, Viruses and Math
Why do people like me write about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC)? Because we have to. If we don't have an opinion, we look ... unopinionated. That's like one politician saying to an opponent, "You know, that is a pretty good idea!" Deadly.
I will attempt to titillate whilst opining on said topic.
My brain buddy Otis Fulton, Turnkey's shanghaied neuropsychologist, weighed in on why the IBC went viral. "The ice bucket challenge was the most successful viral campaign of its kind. When something goes viral, it gains the power of what psychologists call 'social validation.' When something circulates virally, other people want to join in to become part of the group.
"What determines something that goes viral as opposed to things that do not? It turns out that the most important element of something going viral is that it elicits a strong emotional reaction. And it turns out that dumping ice water onto yourself is very emotionally stimulating — both physically and psychologically. Couple this with a call to action — challenging friends and family to imitate you - and a viral sensation is born."
So what Otis is saying, in my words, is that what other people think is really important to us. If we see a group of people doing something, however weird that something might be, we want to do it too.
That implies both an opportunity and a responsibility. The opportunity is to raise a bunch of money by creating an opportunity for social validation connected to fundraising; the responsibility is to make sure it is safe and brand-compliant.
The other part of this interesting conversation is that we can mimic an emotional response with a physical one (iced water on the body is incredibly physical).
There are lots of ways to talk about the IBC. One way is this: (Social validation + ((emotional or physical response)+call to action) = Going Viral.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.