Yes, There Is a Challenge With the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
The last few weeks have been quite interesting to watch as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took over the fundraising landscape. In general, here is my summary of the thinking:
- The Nonprofit that is not associated with ALS: "WOW, why couldn't that have been us?"
- The Nonprofit Executive (to the team): "Go figure out how we can create our own ice bucket challenge."
- The Nonprofit Fundraiser: "I hope my boss doesn't think I can create that."
- The Nonprofit Agency: "I hope my clients know this was not even planned by the organization — it didn't even START with the organization."
- The Nonprofit That Funds ALS Research/Service but Is Not the ALS Association: "We should tell people to donate to us because that organization is not as good as us."
- The Average American (a collection of thoughts): "Wow, I hope I don't get asked more than once. Do I have to donate for each time I'm asked? Do I have to dump ice water for each time I'm asked?"
- The Haters and Pot Stirrers (a collection of thoughts): "You shouldn't be donating to ALS. You shouldn't be donating to ALSA. Have you seen how they spend their money?"
All kidding aside, here are the issues I think are the most important:
1) Apparently people still do not understand the importance of spending money and where the line is drawn between what is "excessive" and "reasonable." Of course, there are always "haters" — people just trying to stir the pot. But I've seen some pretty horrible posts on social media about the ALS Association. I'm not sure if some of the posts are rooted in jealousy and actually the result of wishing ill will on the beneficiary of this enormous viral sensation, but there are some who simply appear to be based in misunderstanding.
These "bad articles" typically have the pie chart showing how ALSA spends its money or the salaries for the top executives at the organization. These are the ones I'm most disappointed in. One of the headlines that really upset me was "ALS Association Does Not Deserve Your Donation." The primary message point for this particular article was that 73 percent of the money raised by ALSA was not spent on research. Well, guess what — that's right. But the article attempts to imply that if it is not spent on research then the organization is a fraud and not a good charity.
Yes, 27 percent of money raised is spent on research. But another 19 percent is spent on patient and community services. And another 32 percent is spent on public and professional education. Anyone who understands how a disease affects the community knows that research for new treatments and a "cure" is very important — but so is helping those who are already diagnosed and trying to improve their quality of life as they suffer through what could be the toughest days of their lives. Raising awareness across the general public and the medical community is also of great importance to help educate on the ability to diagnose as early as possible. I personally know someone who was misdiagnosed for over a year by her medical team — so yes, raising awareness about ALS is very important.
Yes, I believe all donors should do their due diligence and educate themselves on the organizations they support and how donations are used. But it would be a shame if a bunch of donors to charity didn't actually understand the truth about how the money is being used. This is a battle that has been fought for a long time by our industry, and we can't stop now — especially with this kind of press. And, if people in our industry are actually attempting to create distrust, SHAME ON THEM.
2) Yes, there are 3 million new donors to this organization. Trust me — as a marketer and fundraiser — I believe these 3 million donors could keep someone awake many many nights stressing out. Remember all the stories about the millions of disaster donors who come out of the woodwork every now and then. Yep, someone's coffers shoot up, but those donors are not typical donors. Those donors are not necessarily connected to the organization. And, guess what, it costs money to communicate to donors.
So, ALSA now has 3 million people to start talking with — build a strategy around — and perhaps all along knowing that many of these people will not retain to the brand. Its financial reports for 2014 will forever be footnoted (*year of the Ice Bucket Challenge). Board members will want the organization to repeat this campaign — and might believe the revenue windfall can be repeated. This is a unique opportunity for ALSA's fundraisers and marketers, but it will be a challenging one to say the least.
3) How will this new influx of money be spent? This is my big question. I believe that ALSA will do the right thing. But this is a unique situation. Earlier I compared the donor volume to that of a disaster scenario, but in those cases the ability to spend the influx of money on disaster-related issues can be easily understood. In this case, it is "business as usual" for this organization, but its bank account has grown exponentially.
It seems that every known business journal has weighed in on this issue and how ALSA should spend the money. In my mind, this could be a special opportunity for ALSA to bring together the best and brightest in the ALS community and form a blue-ribbon committee to assess where the need is greatest and where the greatest benefit can be achieved. My fear is that many eyes will be on this, and I don't want this to backfire and negatively affect the trust that has been growing for charitable giving. None of us can afford to have public trust be shifted in the wrong direction.
One thing is for sure — this is going to be written up in marketing textbooks one day and tracked by all of us over the next year to find out 1) what did ALSA do with all the money 2) what did it do with all those new donors and 3) how does the dust settle in the long run for ALSA.
But I'll say this — my 9-year-old was challenged by at least five of his friends, and he did it. He understood what it was about. He tells people he donated. He asked to look at Facebook daily so he could see all the videos. He watched me (in my video) relate my ability to pick up that ice bucket to those suffering with ALS and the weakness they get in their limbs and the ultimate paralysis. So all the questions I have are important, but if even half of the parents who let their kids "take the challenge" explained to them what they were really doing, this viral challenge has planted some very important seeds for the future. All the haters need to just be quiet (and go to their therapists and have a special session on "jealousy").
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.