On Giving, Ice Buckets and Living Beyond Yourself

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ever since the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, there's been a lot of conversation -- some positive, some negative -- centered around it.

Is the challenge gimmicky? Yes. Is it working? Yes. As of last week it had raised 400% more in donations than the same time the previous year and as of yesterday had hit $70.2 million in donations.

The short-term benefits of this type of campaign are easy to see: the challenge raises money and raises awareness of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It also gives people a much-needed mental respite from the news of all the horrific events happening around the world right now.

In about ten days, the Ice Bucket Challenge's 15 minutes of fame will be up. While the conversations will dwindle, the impact of these last couple of weeks will continue. Non-profit marketing is always a long-game. Every good non-profit marketing strategy takes into account donor acquisition and, more importantly, donor retainment. For some, this challenge is a one-off opportunity to join the crowd and do something good even if a person's motivation is fueled by fear of missing out (FOMO), social pressure, and/or narcissism. For some others, it's something they do in addition to their normal charitable giving. And for some, it's an introduction to the act of charitable giving altogether.

This last factor cannot be underestimated and it's where the long-term genius of this type of campaign lives. Doing something new is scary and, for many, giving financially to a non-profit is outside of their comfort zone. Many people want to be the type of people who give, but they aren't, for a number of reasons. Non-profits are acutely aware that good intentions without the act of giving don't find cures nor change the world for the better.

For those who are on board with the idea of giving but haven't yet made a practice of doing so, the Ice Bucket Challenge and other community-oriented charitable events (5k races, for example) often serve as a non-threatening introduction to the act of actually donating money.

A small percentage of people who never donated before to anything, but gave to charity for the first time because of the Ice Bucket Challenge are now hooked on giving and will continue to be generous. As these people get in the habit of giving they will, over time, increase the amount they give, begin to donate their personal time to the cause, and begin to advocate for the cause.

While the ALSA may have been the organization that introduced some people to giving and the habit of living generously, it may not be the long-term beneficiary. As a person's generosity becomes habitual, they tend to switch their giving, time, and advocacy to an organization that is more in line with their passions and values. Some will stick with the ALSA because it is a cause they care about. Others will find charities that hit closer to home and those organizations will benefit from people this challenge converted from non-donors to donors.

In my view, that's okay. There is a lot in this world that can be changed for the better and consistent acts of generosity and kindness trump random acts of generosity and kindness. If the Ice Bucket Challenge encourages people to look beyond themselves and actively seek ways to add good to the lives of other people, then a few weeks of a gimmicky fundraising campaign were well worth it.

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