Business

The benefits and downsides of an event like the ice bucket challenge

Coach John Calipari and the UK basketball team took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the Bahamas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014.
Coach John Calipari and the UK basketball team took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the Bahamas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. UK Athletics

Chances are in the past several months your Facebook feeds were packed with videos of friends pouring ice-cold water over their heads, then challenging friends to do the same in the name of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The stunt became a runaway viral hit of the summer. Everyone from groups of kids to celebrities and tech-giants jumped on the trend.

According to reports, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $100 million dollars.

It was a great example of peer-to-peer fundraising. Key to the success was that it was accessible and fun for participant and viewer. All you had to have to participate was a bucket, ice water, smart phone, social media account and friends to video it and dump water over you. There was a low barrier to participate.

And of course watching someone's reaction to having ice water poured over his or her head is rather amusing.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge not only raised funds, but also awareness around this little-known disease, which has devastating effects on the person and their family.

Patrick McCowan, a board member with The ALS Association Kentucky Chapter who lost his father to ALS, said that what was important to him was the awareness raised by the challenge. His goals are to discover the cause of this terminal disease, which is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and then find a cure.

Many nonprofits are looking to this philanthropic blockbuster and wondering how they can create another ice bucket challenge to raise funds and awareness. Unfortunately, viral campaigns often can't be re-created.

Allyson Kapin, a partner at Rad Campaign, shares that many national organizations that have experienced this type of viral success admit that having a campaign go viral is fantastic for the short term in terms of raising awareness and money, but viral campaigns tend to fizzle out quickly. While organizations will see a surge in donations, email sign-ups, and social platform during a viral campaign, it is hard for organizations to keep these new donors engaged without a plan.

Kapin, having worked with more than 100 organizations to develop websites and campaigns, set goals and craft messaging for advocacy organizations, understands why nonprofits are attracted to viral campaigns. Your organization's mission is important, so naturally you want to reach as many people as possible. However, the allure of going viral is ultimately a distraction.

She suggests to raise money and be successful in advocacy campaigns, organizations should invest their energy in creating compelling and sharable content that focuses on:

■ Fostering your community and network

■ Motivating your target audiences to take action through targeted engagement

■ Defining measurable goals connected to specific outcomes

■ Being prepared for successes and learning quickly from failures

There are no shortcuts to creating social change, Kapin advises. You need a mobilized base of supporters who believe in your mission and are consistently engaged across multiple channels.

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