Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success? | Beth’s Blog

Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success?

Fundraising

In the last six weeks of summer, turn on any TV news channel, NPR, or read news articles online, and there was depressing news.    The Malaysian Airline tragedy in the Ukraine, the Ebola virus outbreak,  the conflict on the borders of Israel/Palestine, Iraq/ISIS,  Ferguson, and the sad passing of Robin Williams.    These are all very serious and sad world events.   So, maybe it is not too surprising that something that makes us feel good while doing good and a little silly like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went wild on the social networks.    (That’s the response I gave during NPR Morning Edition when asked why it was catching on)

The challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice water on one’s head or donating to the ALS Association, with a social media component.   Participants do a video of themselves dumping the water on their heads or donating, and tagging other people in their network to do the same.    This was not a campaign started by the ALS Association, but young people who wanted to support the cause.   Soon celebrities and main stream media joined in the fun as it continues to sweep the nation.   Technology rock stars have also joined the bandwagon, including Bill Gates, Robert Scoble, and Mark Zuckerberg (who was challenged to do this by Chris Christy, Governor of NJ).

I’ve written about the rise of Philanthrokids, those young people otherwise known as Generation Z, who are online social network savvy and can easily use their Smartphones to raise money or awareness for a cause.    I’ve seen colleagues take the challenge with their children, like my colleagues Lisa Colton and Marc Pitman both of whom have a family member who suffered from ALS.

It sounds counter intuitive to ask people to donate $100 to ALS or make this goofy video and share on social.  But according to news reports, it has increased awareness and dollars raised  for ALS research. The association reports $15.6 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.8 million in the same period last year, including 300,000 new donors.  There were over a million videos created according to various reports.

Even my favorite charity and philanthropy cynic, my colleague Tom Watson who writes a regular column for Forbes Magazine, gave the Ice Bucket Challenge a big thumbs up in his recent column, pointing out all the reasons why it was a success beyond the dollars raised.  One reason is that wacky and goofy fundraisers work.  Another reason is the social proofing element, where friends tag their friends on social network. Social proof is peer pressure in a positive way, the positive influence created when people find out others are doing something – now, suddenly, everyone else wants to do that something too.

Like everything on the Internet, there was a backlash and criticism.   It’s  publicity stunt philanthropy.  It encouraging slacktivism, not long term relationship between the donor and the charity.  It won’t make a difference to those with ALS. And all about social media narcissism — a selfie on steroids and ego philanthropy.      Some suggest it is a just fad and is not really expanding charitable giving:

That would be all right if new donations to ALS added to the total of charitable giving. But the evidence is to the contrary. The concern  of philanthropy experts is that high-profile fundraising campaigns like this end up cannibalizing other donations–those inclined to donate $100 to charity this summer, or this year, will judge that they’ve met their social obligations by spending the money on ALS. (See this piece by MacAskill for an explanation.)

The explosive spread of the ice bucket challenge could even end up hurting ALS fundraising in the long term. The challenge is a fad, and fads by their nature burn out–the brighter they glow, the sooner they disappear.

The hard work of philanthropy always lies in creating a sustainable donor base. But the ice bucket challenge has all the hallmarks of something that will be regarded in 2015 as last year’s thing.

In a discussion with colleagues, I think Nancy White, had the right idea.   She was challenged and honored her friends request, but since wasn’t a fan of video self-promotion, she created a cartoon and also bent the challenge rules.   She also donated $100 to ALS, but also sent a donation to Doctors Without Borders because right now there are many West African countries who are so short of medical providers given The Ebola Crisis.  She challenged her friends to donate to ALS and to match their donation to another cause saying “Let’s spread good intentions, but wisely.”

Another alternative is the #noicebucket challenge:  Don’t dump cold water on your head; donate to ALS or other charity; and encourage your friends to do the same.   Inspired by Nancy, I’m forgoing the video and the water (we’re in a drought in California) and donating to charity:water, in honor of founder Scott Harrison’s son, Jackson, to welcome him into the world.

While the amazing success of the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t going to be something that every nonprofit will be able to replicate, the ALS challenge will be how they can retain all these new donors.    For other professionals who work at nonprofits who may be asked by their board to cook up viral social media fundraiser, the challenge will be to extract the lessons learned and apply to social media infused fundraising campaigns and be ready to launch during the next negative news cycle.

36 Responses

  1. Johannes says:

    Hi Beth, I respect some of my friends’ uncomfort with self-promotion, however, I think the general critisism of the #icewaterbucket challenge as “slacktivism” is way of the mark. It’s not really complicated:

    - I learned about a disease I haven’t heard before
    - I learned some personal stories of people who are affected
    - The cause gets extra donations (in fact, A LOT of extra donations!)
    - There is a sense of togetherness when lots of people, including celebrities and non-celeb folks, do the same thing for the same reason
    - I had a fun time watching friends and celebs get soaked in ice water!

    Yes, silliness creates attention, so why not use this fact of life for a good cause? Looks like an all-around win-win situation to me.

    That having said, I happily accepted Nancy White’s alternative #iceglasschallange, as I prefer a glass of Scotch over a bucket of ice water any time of the day.

  2. Nancy White says:

    I think this challenge will end up being a case study for our Project Community students this Fall! Thanks for the roundup, Beth, and the good conversation online that proceeded it. #iceglasschallenge — I raise my glass of cheer to you, ice inside, liquid wisely reused inside of my body.

    Now, my fondest hope is that the ALS will wisely understand and value their windfall, channel it directly into something that produces value (research, paying their lowest paid staff well, etc), communicate their successes and even their lessons from failure to those 300,000 new donors.

    What if a tiny revolution in fundraising provoked an even slightly larger revolution in how we work to improve the world instead of “business as usual?”

    What if each of us who participated (with the rules or outside of them) was a tiny bit changed to increase our contribution of time, energy, resources to improve the world, from inside our front door and outside? What if…. ah….sigh…

  3. [...] Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success? [...]

  4. Beth says:

    Nancy, thank you for the inspiration!

    Johannes, I would prefer a glass of wine — and while I followed Nancy’s lead in morphing this charity meme, I loved seeing philanthropy go wild and which this sort of thing was — people donating to a good cause of their choice outside of the year-end holidays was “business as usual”

  5. [...] Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success? [...]

  6. Darren says:

    Beth, great roundup. As someone who lost a family member to ALS (2yrs ago), my heart has been greatly uplifted by the impact of this challenge. Even if this is a short term bubble that the ALS Association will have to deal with, it is a good thing.

    In general I am somewhat derisive of the supposed impact of social media in fundraising. However, there is no denying the impact that individuals have had through their social networks in this instance. I think primarily for the very fact that it is individual and not organizationally inspired. I also agree that the timing may have had a lot to do with the success. Had this happened a couple of months ago or during a different news cycle . . . who knows?

    I hope that the ALS Assoc. can translate this into ongoing success with a whole new group of donors. What a great challenge to have for any charity!

  7. Ryan says:

    Thanks Beth! I was just called out along with the company I work for and this info is helpful in planning our response. Hoping ALS can retain the new donors and turn slacktivists into activists.

  8. Excellent article Beth and it really captures all sides of the issue. I personally don’t see the point of dumping ice water on your head but a lot of people have had fun with it this summer. Great. But give to your favorite charities. If ALS is one, fine, give to them. But are you really going to give to a charity because people are dumping ice water on their heads? Apparently for some people the answer is yes.

    Started by a group of young people? Wonderful. For the ALS Association it is the other end of the spectrum of having a old person they never knew about die and leave them millions in their will.

    Marion

  9. Ed Nicholson says:

    Great assessment, Beth.
    First off: Extremely worthy cause. Creative tactic.
    It will no doubt spawn many other similar stunt-driven,online tactics–> With diminishing returns as people tire of seeing their news feeds busy with this kind of stuff, and the “givers” get tapped continually. But it does provide a reminder that fundraising is well served by being creative, fun, and engaging toward a worthy beneficiary.

  10. Meri says:

    Totally agree with Eric. People will get tired of stunts on FB as a way to raise money, but that is okay. We all need to be reminded that we can be fun and creative even while engaging with a “deeply downer” cause (ALS is generally only associated with bad news.) And I love that it involves everyone at the same level, as opposed to the ‘big ticket” fundraiser which elites attend.

  11. [...] the Networked Nonprofit.” Read Beth’s blog. She’s talking about what we’re thinking… how do we come up with our own “ice bucket challenge” following the ALS Association’s phenomenal (and un-orchestrated) [...]

  12. [...] have no clean drinking water (Detroit) to point out that concern. It doesn’t mean anyone hates people living with [...]

  13. Christina Licata says:

    Beth, thanks for the article. As a nonprofit fundraiser, I wish I would have thought about this idea! The more creative team members can get about fundraising, the better. People will donate to causes that they find interesting, have a connection to, or have fun with. The focus for ALS should be to cultivate these relationships with their new donors, so that the ALS Association can indeed become the charity of choice for these new supporters. That will be the real challenge!

  14. [...] Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success? by Beth Kanter [...]

  15. [...] 3. Is A Downer News Cycle A Factor in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Success? [...]

  16. [...] and relatively low pain factor are what make it such a viral phenomenon. My former colleague, Beth Kanter, made a great point about the challenge: It’s a feel-good event in a time when the news is flat-out [...]

  17. [...] and relatively low pain factor are what make it such a viral phenomenon. My former colleague, Beth Kanter, made a great point about the challenge: It’s a feel-good event in a time when the news is flat-out [...]

  18. [...] Jörg: Das war auch mein erster Eindruck. Mittlerweile machen viele beides. Maik: Hast Du den Artikel von Beth Kanter dazu gelesen? Jörg: Ja, die Nachhaltigkeit der Aktion ist erstmal fraglich. Maik: Vielleicht [...]

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  20. Jack Ryger says:

    My best friend’s wife was stricken with ALS and succumbed to the disease two years ago.I do not understand the criticism. This is a positive campaign which has generated exponential funding for ALS.
    While this fundraising lollapaloozza will probably fizzle out towards the end of the summer, the real question is how to capitalize on this phenomenon and generate repeat gifts for next year.

  21. [...] in the midst of negative. Beth Kanter said the recent “downer news cycle” might also have contributed to the Challenge’s success. We were all ready to laugh and make [...]

  22. Excellent blog post, Beth. Although the average life expectancy of someone with ALS is 2-5 years, my husband, Ismail Tsieprati, has been living with ALS for 30 years. For the past 24 years, he has been living with me at home on a portable ventilator. I’m happy to say he continues to have an excellent and productive quality of life despite being totally paralyzed and unable to speak, to eat, or even to breathe on his own. He communicates by spelling out words with eye blink. We’re currently looking for a publisher for a book we have written together about our 30-year journey with ALS called “Tears, Laughs, and Triumphs.”

    It’s been 75 years since Lou Gehrig gave his famous farewell speech when he retired from baseball because he had ALS. After all these years, there is still no treatment or cure for the disease. Thanks to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, much of the general public now knows, for the first time ever, what ALS is and is donating money—lots of money—to help those who have it.

    Ismail and I are grateful for the amazing success of the #IceBucketChallenge and hope it continues for a long time. We encourage those who have not yet taken the challenge to consider doing so. People living with ALS need your help!

    We invite everyone to learn more about Ismail’s story by visiting our website at http://www.tearslaughstriumphs.com

  23. Beth says:

    Jack, I’m so sorry for your friend’s loss – and you know from firsthand experience how awful this disease is. I hope it helps ALS make major strides in its research.

    Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing your husband’s story and bravery and the link. I hope that the icebucket can help find a cure for your husband and others.

  24. Beth says:

    Ed,

    Do you think the Icebucket Challenge has helped giving and philanthropy break ground with new donors or people who don’t typically give?

  25. Ed Nicholson says:

    Good question. There were definitely new donors. Whether they’ll continue giving remains to be seen. Let’s hope so. I think some of that depends on what the recipient organization does next to engage donors. If ALS can find creative, compelling ways to help people believe they’re part of a solution to this horrible disease, they’ll retain a lot of donors. If they can make those donors feel as though they’re part of a community, they’ll keep even more of them. If, however, they just use their new treasure of data to send out an overabundance of boilerplate donation requests, that will be wasted opportunity.
    >>>Do you think the Icebucket Challenge has helped giving and philanthropy break ground with new donors or people who don’t typically give?>>

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