This summer (2014), a fundraiser promoted by the ALS Association in the United States went viral. By September 12, the event known as The Ice Bucket Challenge had raised $112.4 million in donations, according to the ALS Association website.
The premise was simple. Within 24 hours of being challenged, participants had to record a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads, and post the video online. Participants then had to challenge a minimum of three other people to participate in the challenge by either (1) making a donation to the ALS Association or (2) pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads while being recorded on video.
The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media and became a pop culture phenomenon, particularly in the United States, with numerous celebrities, politicians, athletes, and everyday Americans posting videos of themselves online and on TV participating in the event.
Here are seven fundraising lessons from this creative fundraising event.
1. You Can Raise Money with Video
The ALS Association raised over $112.4 million in three months with a video production budget of zero.
2. Go Viral or Go Home
According to The New York Times, in 2014, people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and August 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter between July 29 and August 17.
3. You Can Acquire Donors with Video
Within weeks of the challenge going viral, The New York Times reported that more than 739,000 new donors had given money to the ALS Association.
4. You Can Promote Your Cause with Anything
What does a celebrity pouring a bucket of ice water over her head have to do with a neurodegenerative disorder known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis? Nothing. Yet the stunt raised awareness of ALS. Prior to the challenge, only half of Americans had heard of the disease, according to the ALS Association. During the challenge, hits to Wikipedia’s article on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis grew from an average of 8,000 hits a day to a peak of over 430,000 views on a single day.
5. Even a Back-to-Front Message Can Do Wonders for Your Organization
The whole point of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that participants are challenged to pour ice water over their heads or else donate money to the ALS Association. No one was videotaped making a donation. They were videotaped doing the part of the challenge that said they were NOT making a donation. Which isn’t exactly the kind of publicity that most charities want to receive. And yet the challenge of getting cold and wet in public, and not appearing to donate to the cause, raised money anyway.
6. A No-Name Stunt Can Promote Your Cause
As the challenge went viral on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, it was repeatedly called the Ice Bucket Challenge. The Twitter hashtag was #icebucketchallenge. The cause of ALS and the name of the organization behind the challenge were rarely mentioned. Most celebrities who took the challenge never mentioned ALS as they were videotaped. And yet the challenge was still associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
7. They Key to Viral Fundraising is an Outrageous Challenge
How do you get Lady Gaga, Bill Gates, George W. Bush, Stephen King and Kermit the Frog to publically support a cause that most people have never heard of? Challenge them to do something outrageous, have them videotape it, have them post the videotape online, and, most importantly, have them challenge three people in their circle of influence to do the same. Before you know it, which is to say, in three months, you will acquire 739,000 new donors and raise $112.4 million. The only problem is, next year you’ll have to create a different fundraising stunt. The ice bucket challenge has already been done.