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ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Good Idea or No?

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Good Idea or No?

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Good Idea or No?

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a viral campaign going on that has swept the country during the past couple of months. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge might arguably be the most successful viral nonprofit marketing campaign ever. Celebrities are participating. CEO’s are taking the challenge. People from all walks of life are joining in. At last count, the ALS Association (which raises funds to research and fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) has had thousands of people participate and received nearly $100 million (and counting) in donations. Talk about a nonprofit marketer’s dream. Even the ALS Association folks are shocked.

While fundraising consultants mostly agree that this is a one-off phenomenon, many are calling this a remarkable success and looking for ways to duplicate this type of campaign for other organizations.

After all, what organization wouldn’t want to get $100 million for little to no investment?

There may be valuable learning from this campaign, but there are some serious issues few seem to be talking about. And that should be concern enough to take a closer look.

So, why is the Ice Bucket Challenge maybe not the next, best idea in social media findraising?

A recent Washington Post article reports that many individuals have been injured, some seriously, while participating in the challenge. Poor human judgment aside, that’s not good for public safety or good for PR. But beyond the possibility of physical injury, there are a couple of serious fundraising downsides to consider:

1. It’s not necessarily a personal choice to participate.
2. It may generate a one-time donation but conversion is likely to be low

It’s not necessarily a choice.

This hadn’t truly occurred to me – until someone nominated me. I’ll admit, I was enjoying the YouTube videos, Facebook posts, etc. All good fun it seemed. But when I was nominated it dawned on me that, while supporting ALS is a good cause, it doesn’t really fit with my own philanthropic goals. I suddenly felt as though I was being coerced to support an organization I don’t care to financially care to support. Sure, I could forego the donation and just do the ice bucket thing, but is it possible, even probable that some people would feel somewhat resentful? And that’s not going to ultimately benefit the ALS Association.

It’s a one-time donation.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a single gift. Any organization would be happy to accept one. But the real goal is to convert a one-time giver into a long-term donor and supporter. That’s how organizations grow – both responsibly and sustainably. This campaign may generate a nice spike in revenue for this fiscal year, but it’s a one-time bump. Sure, a robust follow-up conversion campaign is going to net some results, but the vast majority of the donors have given for reasons other than a deep personal desire to support the organization. And that doesn’t translate into a second gift.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has certainly done a lot to raise awareness of ALS, and that’s a good thing. But this type of viral campaign also shows that there are some negatives to consider. In all fairness, this campaign really took on a life of it’s own once it went viral. That’s the nature of a viral campaign after all. No one could have foreseen how the challenge would take off. But it also is a great example of why we need to be sure to consider all the potential pros and cons of any campaign before it’s launched.