Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 18 2014

What Your Organization Can Learn From The Ice Bucket Challenge

By Carolyn Clark

The Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s trending on Twitter, Facebook and essentially everywhere on the Internet. Big-name celebrities, government officials and business moguls are all accepting the invitation to dump buckets of ice water over their heads. However, the challenge is much more than a fun viral stunt. People can accept the challenge one of two ways: dump the bucket of freezing water over your head or donate $100 to fight ALS. Many are doing both. Since July 29, the Ice Bucket Challenge has helped the ALS Association raise more than $15 million in donations to fight ALS, which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Is the organization accustomed to this kind of giving? No. During the same time period last year, the ALS Association raised approximately $1.8 million.

"We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association, said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative.”

Many people are unaware of the devastating and deadly disease, which leads to loss of the ability to eat, speak, walk and eventually breathe. Statistics show that only half of the general public understands amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the viral challenge is making a powerful push toward informing the public about the need to fund research for a cure. Right now, there is only one FDA-approved drug to treat the disease, and it only extends survival by a few months.

"While the monetary donations are absolutely incredible, the visibility that this disease is getting as a result of the challenge is truly invaluable,” Newhouse said. “People who have never before heard of ALS are now engaged in the fight against the disease."

So how did the organization get the campaign off the ground? Surely, they invested loads of time, energy and money into reaching out to celebrity spokespeople, right? This entire campaign never even started as a campaign. It began with Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who is living with ALS, asking others to accept the challenge. The videos quickly spread to well-known athletes in the Boston area and then, on to famous athletes around the country. The ALS Association embraced the campaign, asking everyone to use recommended hashtags and social media graphics to help spread the word effectively. Soon enough, Oprah, the Kennedy family and others were on-board.

Lessons From That Freezing Water

The story behind every ALS victim is heartbreakingly sad, but the campaign manages to infuse a smile into the conversation about the disease. Rather than focusing on the overwhelming challenges that ALS victims face, it issues a simple call-to-action. Pour a bucket of water, or donate. Better yet, do them both. Pass it on.

For other organizations working to raise funds and awareness of crippling diseases, the Ice Bucket Challenge serves as a reminder of the most important asset in spreading these campaigns: the human touch. Fundraising campaigns typically include loads of emails, phone calls and direct mail requests with appeals to open pocketbooks, but all too often, these campaigns simply don’t feel authentic. That’s not necessarily the organization’s fault. It’s an unfortunate reality in a time where everyone is constantly inundated with brand-heavy messaging on their computers, smartphones and television screens.

This particular challenge doesn’t come with a commercial message. It doesn’t ask for your email address. It doesn’t require reading a lengthy story. It’s a simple 15-second video of your friends or your favorite quarterback, movie star or TV personality making sure you know about ALS. And it’s working very, very well.

Has your organization experimented with any new ways of approaching your fundraising needs? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts.

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