Has the Ice Bucket Challenge Spawned Charity Jacking? | Beth's Blog

Has the Ice Bucket Challenge Spawned Charity Jacking?


The amount of money raised for ALS research through the IceBucket Challenge is almost $100 million and the other impacts are just as impressive.    Scores of nonprofit fundraising staffers report being called on to replicate the challenge.    Jeremiah Owyang has provided the easy recipe and I’ve provided an analysis of what can and cannot be reproduced.   So, now we are seeing an emerging practice that for lack of a better phrase, I’m calling “Charity Jacking.”

Charity Jacking is similar to brand jacking and  news jacking, defined by David Meerman Scott as the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your organization. It creates a level playing field—literally anyone can newsjack—but, that new level favors players who are observant, quick to react, and skilled at communicating. It’s a powerful tool that can be used to throw an opponent or simply draft off the news momentum to further your own ends. Charity Jacking is imitating a successful fundraising campaign theme or idea that has become popular and instead of encouraging donations to the original charity, redirecting donations to another cause.   It isn’t exactly new in fundraising or activism.  Remember the “Take Back the Pink” Campaign in 2012 or numerous imitators of the popular yellow Livestrong bracelets like this one?

Charity Jacking goes one step beyond “Social Media Meme Morphing.”    A social media meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet.  It typically evolves over time, by chance or through commentary, imitations, tweaks, or parodies.    While other nonprofits have incorporate popular Internet or Social Network memes into their fundraising or advocacy campaigns,  the Ice Bucket has become a social media meme itself and successful because it related to the common person who doesn’t know –or necessarily care –what ALS is.  The meme was entertaining and challenged peers — and in the process learn about ALS and donate.

Let’s trace the how the cold water fundraiser morphed itself into a social media meme and how other nonprofit causes and charities are attempting to replicate it.

Phase 1:  Personal Challenges with Cold Water to Raise Money

Personal challenges involving cold water and raising money for a charity have been around for a while.   In the early days of social fundraising in 2008, Erin Ennis who took a winter dip in Vermont’s Lake Champlain as part of a personal challenge to raise money for Special Olympics Vermont. Before taking the plunge, he setup a group fundraising page at FirstGiving. His page features a famous clip of Seinfeld’s George Castanza shouting “I was in the pool, I was in the pool.” People who donated enjoyed the opportunity for innuendo in the comments. While a modest amount raised, Erin surpassed his fundraising goal by 50%.   The organization has also hosted the “Polar Bear Plunge” fundraiser that raised $20 million in 2012.

Phase 2: The Ice Bucket Challenge: From Fundraiser to Social Media Meme

It started as a way just to challenge friends to donate to a charity.  Some reports say it started to make the rounds in early summer, but not dedicated to any specific charity.   It did not spread until Pete Frates, the former captain of Boston College’s baseball team, repurposed the meme by challenging Steve Gleason to throw a bucket of ice over his head to raise awareness for ALS.  Frates has help from Corey Griffen, a management consultant who organized the fundraiser that set this viral meme into motion in late July, early August.   Sadly, Griffen, died in a drowning accident on August 16th.

If you watch the video at 4:25, it illustrates how this fundraiser went viral, from Frates teammates, to other athletes to other sports teams to celebrities.  This network map illustrates how the challenge spread from celebrity to celebrity by who they tagged.  The data from Facebook illustrates how the campaign started in Massachusetts (where Frates is from) and spread across the country.

The Ice Bucket Challenge morphed into a social media meme and like a worm penetrated other popular Internet memes like Star Wars.  There was even a “vote for your favorite Ice Bucket Video” challenge.
It has also become a global phenomenon arriving in Scotland and even Bollywood film stars dumped cold water on their heads.

Phase 3: Water Morphs Into Vodka and Chocolate

As the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, some participants didn’t dump water on their heads, but switched to another liquid more meaningful to them – whether chocolate or vodka (drinking it instead)

Phase 4:  Call to Donate Morphs

People started doing the challenge but asking their friends to donate to ALS and other charities.   Nancy White was the first one on my feed to bend call to donate 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; just donate to ALS or other charity; and encourage your friends to do the same.  Paull Young did something similar, donated to ALS and to charity:water and used the opportunity to talk about their clean water work.   Casey Niestat made a humorous video involving several dumps of water to raise awareness to several charities he supports. There was also a crowdfunding effort to fund ALS research.

Phase 5:  Charity Jacking

Matt Damon’s version of the challenge is an example of charity:jacking.  He dumped toilet water on his head while talking encouraging donations to Water.org, a charity he co-founded.

Here’s some more examples – some are just advocacy oriented, others fundraisers but they are redirecting attention from ALS to another issue or cause.

Update:  See this Adweek post for additional copy cats.

And nonprofits are not the only ones that “charity jacking” the Ice Bucket Challenge,  marketers are seizing a promotional opportunity as well.


Will the success of the ice bucket challenge create a culture of giving that is not strategic and not directed to where the greatest needs are?

Do you think “charity jacking” is as rare as the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or could it become a common practice as fundraisers show the potential to go viral?

Now that everyone has their hand out do you think our wallets will run dry?   Will there be complaints about too much fundraising “noise” or do you think this will encourage more generosity, especially from those who may new to giving?


22 Responses

  1. DBJ says:

    Not a new thing. See all the wristbands in various colors – inspired by the success of the LiveStrong wristband. Charities have been doing this “jacking” for years.

  2. Beth says:

    DBJ, thanks for that observation! What’s new is that it is online. What I think is better is a day of giving where nonprofits are invited to charity jack together!

  3. […] Also, in case you’re wondering, I was challenged by Scott Monty, I accepted the ice shower (over my garden –in a nod to our drought) and also donated to ALS –you can enjoy my washed up video, here. Lastly, top non profit thought leader Beth Kanter has questioned if this effort can be replicated, and even found other non-profits are emulating or “charity jacking”. […]

  4. Amy Price says:

    Hi Beth:
    I’m not affiliated with Grand Rapids Community Foundation (well, a past employee and fan.) Their new fund Our LGBT fund did a bit of “charity jacking” with a bucket of glitter, because of fabulousness. https://www.facebook.com/lgbtfund

  5. I find it really fascinating how these memes morph and spread, grow and die away! The other interesting thing is that it isn’t necessarily the fundraisers at the charities ‘jacking’ the memes or the hashtags, but the donors and supporters themselves. Macmillan posted this blog to explain that they didn’t set out to ‘jack’ the challenge, simply to support donors who had already started doing it on their behalf, and that in fact they had been criticised by several supporters for not getting in quick enough on the previous #nomakeupselfie meme:

    So I think it also shows us that in certain circumstances the idea of creative ownership that a charity could definitely claim in respect of an appeal just doesn’t apply when the actions are supporter-initiated instead…

    It’s interesting also that #nomakeupselfie and #icebucketchallenge have been ‘jacked’ whereas the death of Claire Squires or Stephen Sutton largely weren’t – in other words there does seem to be a basic online respect for what has triggered a particular viral outbreak of giving…

  6. Tracey Middleton says:

    With over a million registered non-profits in America and growing, it’s kind of inevitable that the competition for our attention, compassion and wallets gets fiercer and fiercer. There have been a few ‘charity jacks’ of this particular meme, no doubt. But the line between jacking and taking an arguably brave stance of withstanding any social pressure to accept the challenge and instead gently asserting an intention to give when, where and to what is closest to your heart rather than top of the news cycle is very thin. Whatever happens next, I think we can almost guarantee that every fundraiser now feels under pressure to come up with the next hot, viral thing…

  7. Beth N says:

    The ice bucket/ice water was around here earlier in the year — to raise money and support for local firefighters. Being local a local cause, it stayed fairly local, although it spread though FB within the folks in the area.

    So — not new at all. It is fascinating tho how the ALS stuff took off.

  8. Judy Levine says:

    For people whose memories go back that far, I am reminded of that 1980’s “jack-of-all-trades” fundraiser Hands Across America (see http://www.causeeffective.org/resources/blog/entry/ice-water-and-holding-hands). Meaning many things to many people, with clarity for none, it nonetheless raised $35 million (in 1986!) and started a lot of people on their way to a career in the nonprofit human services sector.

    And, it spawned a host of “Hands Across” memes, in the pre-virtual age.

    As a fundraiser, I am fascinated with how a nonprofit helps a donor walk through the door that opened just a crack through an extreme-broad-based fundraising activity.

    That’s our job, here in the sector – the #icebucketchallenge, and other variations of this meme, are a hello. The next step in the exchange is ours.

  9. Joe Waters says:

    DBJ and Beth, wrote about this today. The social key is what IBC challenge different, but fundraising challenges are quite common!



  10. Joe Waters says:

    You know when you write things late at night and you hit “publish” before you should???

    What I meant to say was that the online/social component is the key to the uniqueness and success of the ICBC. But fundraising challenges are quite common! I highlight three kinds in my post: physical, buying and digital.


  11. […] Charity Jacking: A copy cat campaign where non-profits slightly alter a popular cause and make it their own in order to generate awareness and donations. Example: The Livestrong bracelets resulted in thousands of permuations for other like charities, and most recently, other non-profits are Charity Jacking the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Charity Jacking coined by Beth Banter. […]

  12. […] Beth Kanter discusses how the #IceBucketChallenge has led to charity jacking. Which explains why the ALS Association is trying to trademark the ice bucket challenge. […]

  13. John Parker says:

    Rip off and duplicate! All is fare in love, war and fund-raising. In my plan “charity jacking” is encouraged and rewarded. When one wins we all win. It’s possible. I challenge you to see my rival to Icebucket. Text SGL2F to the short code 55469.

  14. Lisa says:

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  15. John Weeks says:

    Here in Cambodia, the enthusiasm for ice buckets continue but not for ALS.

    They are for charities favored by the ruling CPP party.


  16. […] campaign, other charity organisations are tempted to ride the wave by doing what she calls “charity jacking“:     Scores of nonprofit fundraising staffers report being called on to replicate […]

  17. […] Has the Ice Bucket Challenge Spawned Charity Jacking? – by Beth Kanter […]

  18. […] campaign, other charity organisations are tempted to ride the wave by doing what she calls “charity jacking“:     Scores of nonprofit fundraising staffers report being called on to replicate […]

  19. Kerri says:

    And who remembers the dunking your favorite teacher in the dunk tank at the school carnival (aka fundraiser)?! Yep, water and fundraising isn’t new. I myself love all of the creative “jacking” this has spawned. I love the rice bucket challenge- creative solutions to local problems!

  20. […] Charity Jacking: A copycat marketing campaign the place non-income barely alter a well-liked trigger and make it their very own so as to generate consciousness and donations. Instance: The Livestrong bracelets resulted in hundreds of permutations for different comparable non-income. Causes are hijacking campaigns made well-liked by different causes. Watch because the ALS Ice Bucket Problem morphs right into a Jell-O Bucket or Mud Bucket problem for another worthy trigger. Charity Jacking coined by Beth Kanter. […]

  21. […] Additionally, in case you’re questioning, I used to be challenged by Scott Monty, I accepted the ice bathe (over my backyard –in a nod to our drought) and in addition donated to ALS –you can enjoy my washed up video, here. Lastly, prime non revenue thought chief Beth Kanter has questioned if this effort can be replicated, and even discovered other non-profits are emulating or “charity jacking”. […]