Guest Blog: What the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Portends for Future Fundraising

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By now, we’ve all had our social media news feeds filled with videos of friends, colleagues, and celebrities pouring ice water over their heads to raise awareness and funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This Ice Bucket Challenge has drawn both praise and criticism from a variety of voices. Some have heralded the movement as pure genius, while others have disparaged the effort for its misuse of natural resources and narcissistic bent.

Regardless of one’s reaction, there is no denying its power in garnering attention and no question it represents a watershed (no pun intended) moment in the fundraising industry. The movement is indicative of a larger trend happening in fundraising — the offer of engagement and affiliation — and professionals should take note.

Total giving to charitable organizations in 2013 was $335 billion, an increase of 4.4 percent from 2012 and represents the fourth straight year of growth. While charitable gifts are on the rise overall, giving for the sake of giving is losing its luster, particularly among the Millennial generation. Increasingly, potential donors are seeking a connection, a personal takeaway. To accomplish this, an experiential element is becoming more the rule than the exception. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a prime example of a “give for the get,” which is to say, the donor also receives recognition, accolades and attention for their charitable act.

To be sure, today’s donors want to reach beyond simply writing a check or making an online donation. They want to get their hands dirty, or in this case, their heads wet. As such, it is wise for charitable organizations to be cognizant of the present day donor’s need for something more, from a volunteer experience to the chance to raise awareness and funds via personal networks. There is growing fatigue among donor bases around the traditional 5K run and or the golf outing. The next generation of donors is seeking unique, interesting ways to get engaged that are meaningful and even at times, outrageous. Why walk around a track when you can run across hot coals, a la Warrior Dash?

At the same time, nonprofits need to understand how difficult it is to replicate the tremendous success of the Ice Bucket Challenge — an authentic initiative inspired by a personal story that grew beyond anyone’s wildest imagination because it was genuine, not concocted by the charity group. Indeed, there is not always a “silver bullet.” And that’s OK. What is vital is looking to engage donors consistently and effectively, day-to-day, year-to-year.

It is important to note, that beyond the “wow” factor of a particular campaign or social media moment, it is vital that nonprofits stay connected with their donors; keeping their partners informed of the good works, research, and success stories that their donations are generating.

The Ice Bucket Challenge will likely fade from memory and the “next big thing” will take its place. However, it is clear that for fundraising professionals this public display is creating a sea change of how to think, approach, and report on the overall fundraising experience for current and future donors to continue to affect positive change and make a difference.

Kevin Bopp is director of operations at Associated Community Services, Southfield.

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