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Wha I Learned About Fundraising from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Ice BabyI’m not fundraising for ALS. It’s not to make a statement or anything, it’s just that I’m involved in something that’s not as popular right now. During the great online phenomenon known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I was fundraising for another, just as worthy cause. My involvement with Rotary International led me to planning a 5K Race Fundraiser for the End Polio Now Campaign, and our timing could not have been worse when it comes to competing for friends’ and families’ donor dollars.

The thing about viral trends is you really just don’t know what’s going to stick. Our 5K was going to be typical but fun, and we still hope to raise about $10,000 through sponsorship and registrations. My Rotary Alumni Group and I scraped together funds for a website, t-shirts and prizes, and would love to have an awesome turnout come September 13th.

In the middle of all of it, my Facebook feed has been littered with people being guilt-tripped into dumping water on their heads for a fundraiser. AND IT WAS WORKING.

The Ice-Bucket phenomenon brought attention to the extremely worthy cause of ALS and as of this writing, $100 million has been raised for education and awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It has also allowed people to use it for their own personal promotion—drawing dramatic attention to their own causes, their own bodies and their own celebrity.

I’m not hating on the challenge, I’m intrigued, and a bit jealous. It’s an educational experience that other nonprofits would be foolish to ignore. Here’s what we can learn:

  1. It’s all about ME. The ice-bucket challenge is working because people get to be involved beyond their checkbooks for about 15 seconds. They get to film themselves looking serious, sexy, sad, funny etc. and post it for all of their friends and family to see. This is the social media society, where selfies, snap-chat and memes are real words and can be priceless as online currency when utilized properly.
  2. Size doesn’t matter. The ALS Foundation didn’t know if this challenge would work, but they allow their community to create their own unique fundraisers for the cause. By engaging a small, dedicated online audience and asking them to do a seemingly simple silly stunt, they built their donor list 100’s of times over.
  3. We like to laugh at people. There is still room for 5K’s, golf tournaments and silent auctions, but, now, more than ever, our audience must be entertained, and quickly. Can you figure out a way to raise money, give no prizes and still get people to have a good time in a minimal amount of time? This is clearly an untapped, holy grail of fundraising.
  4. Gimmicks Originality Works. In the days where Kim Kardashian can sell a book of selfies as a legitimate business venture, we need to redefine what we think of as stupid. Who cares if the people who are doing the ice bucket challenge didn’t know about ALS and had to do something ridiculous to get attention? They have our attention now, at least for a little bit. And $100 million later? Not so stupid.
  5. There is room for everybody. Some nonprofit fundraisers like me may throw their hands up in despair. “It’s not FAIR,” they wail. “We’re important toooooo!” Well of course you are. People are generally awesome when it comes to fundraisers, and we’ll find our donors just like always, and just in time. But it’s time to think outside of the norms here. If what we’re doing is not working, then it’s time to stop complaining, and innovate, just like ALS did.

A Note to Donors:

Everyone who donates to this cause must remember that just because you gave a certain amount of money, this is just a single ice cube in the life-sized bucket of non-profits worldwide.

Many non-profits with a variety of causes all over the world struggle to continue their much-needed services. If you really want to be involved, they need to get involved on a deeper level. Time to dry off, take a deep breath, and get your hands dirty with a cause that you actually care about and want to engage with for the long-term. That kind of work is way more valuable than a one-time donation based on a dare. In fact, donating $10 per month annually will be MORE overall than a one-time $100 gift. Volunteer, join a board, meet people, change the world through your actions and work. You don’t even have to film yourself doing it.

But maybe you should…..

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