8 Ice Bucket Challenge Social Media Take-Aways for Nonprofits


8 Ice Bucket Challenge Social Media Take-Aways for Nonprofits

In The Remarkable “Wet Blanket Challenge” Roger Craver and Tom Belford write about those who are pooh-poohing the Ice Bucket Challenge, claiming that it was a product of pure luck. Not something that can be replicated. And not something even that worthy of celebration if the ALS Association doesn’t put in place a stellar donor retention strategy.

Many have used this as an opportunity to talk about donor retention. You know. All the things you should be doing like thanking folks within 48 hours, picking up the phone to call and thank larger donors and first-time donors, sharing stories that inform new donors of how their gift is helping, developing additional ways to involve donors beyond the giving of money, and so forth.

Roger and Tom take this a step further and call the Ice Bucket Challenge a “lead generation strategy” – meaning these folks can’t really be considered “donors” until you’ve retained them and made them loyal supporters.

I love calling the Ice Bucket challenge a ‘lead generation strategy!’

Because nonprofits currently do a very poor job of leveraging social media to capture leads. And that’s the part of the Ice Bucket Challenge that other nonprofits can replicate. It just takes some understanding of the various stages through which a prospect goes – from awareness… to interest… to engagement… to investment – when connecting with your nonprofit as a brand. Social engagement opportunities show up at every stage of lead nurture.

As I described in my recent article, How to Create an Ice Bucket-type Challenge for Your Nonprofit: A Formula for Success, you must begin with a gimmick. But after you’ve found one and generated your leads, then what?

Yes, nonprofits need to have a retention strategy (aka “nurture” or “stewardship” strategy) in place. All the time. Not just for windfalls. Most don’t — which is why donor retention hovers around the abysmal rate of 39% (ongoing) and 30% (new donors).

Still… even if ALS blows their retention strategy completely, they’ll probably still end up renewing 3 out of 10 of their new donors. Pathetic as that is in terms of overall retention, it’s a huge gift in terms of donor acquisition that didn’t cost them a single penny. Those who are crying “flash in the pan” and “no big deal if they don’t retain” folks may be blinded by sour grapes envy.

Something happened here that is unalterably good for ALS. Last time I looked they’d raised over $ 100 million in just one month – a 3,500% increase over the same period last year. And they secured over 3 million donors! They’re a LOT stronger today. They’ll be at least a little bit stronger tomorrow. It’s now up to ALS to determine how much stronger they’ll be.

For the rest of us, we can take the lessons we’ve learned and try to develop our own lead generation strategies. Most won’t be lightening because that’s something we can’t control. But we can at least turn the electricity on.

8 Electric Lead Generation Take-aways from the Ice Bucket Challenge include:

  1. You gotta have a gimmick. People are inundated with information today. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd without a gimmick. But don’t blame this on the Ice Bucket Challenge. Though some say it’s been a game changer, the real game changer here has been the digital revolution – something that has fundamentally altered business as usual. Brian Solis has been arguing for years about how digital has given rise to an “egosystem.” The most influential businesses will find success within this egosystem and its interconnected customers. In fact, Solis labels today’s online connectors as “Generation C” for “connected” – and this “generation” knows no age boundaries. Bingo! Generation C made the Ice Bucket challenge go viral.
  2. Social media matters. A lot. As noted above, this is a trend that went viral only because ordinary people (Generation C) shared it with their networks. It couldn’t have happened several years ago. And it can’t happen for organizations that don’t effectively use social networks to share content. The balance of power has shifted due to the digital revolution. Communication dynamics have been radically altered, changing from a one-way to two-way channel.   The consumer’s voice, which up until a decade ago was but a whisper, is now being heard loud and clear.**
  3. Your gimmick must incorporate elements of fun and accessibility. The Ice Bucket Challenge’s success can, in part, be tracked to its stupidity. People love to see other people making fools of themselves. Then there’s the power of the dare; for some reason, human beings can’t resist them. Plus this challenge was easy to do and to share. All you needed was a bucket, some water and some ice. Make a video with your cell phone and voila!
  4. Your gimmick must play to peoples’ egos. In many ways, the Ice Bucket Challenge was the “selfie” on steroids. Point a camera at yourself doing something corny; then infuse it with a higher purpose. “Slactivists” have received a lot of criticism, but you really can’t argue with the results in this case. [“Slactivist” is a portmanteau of the words slacker and activism; it’s usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of a social cause, with little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they’ve contributed]. In this case there was plenty of practical effect. ALS got a lot of donations from a lot of people. They won’t renew them all, but they’ll renew enough to make a difference.
  5. The crowd is a powerful influencer. One of the reasons folks shared and shared and shared this challenge was because they saw celebrities, sports heroes, titans of industry and peers doing so. People will tend to imitate others, especially others they view as authority figures (this is one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence).
  6. The crowd is most likely to share trending topics. In this case, the Ice Bucket Challenge itself became the buzzed about topic. If you’re trying to start a viral challenge, a good place to begin is by taking a look at what’s trending in the news and online. Take a look at the nightly news and talk shows. See what’s being talked about on Google trends. Go to the left side bar of your Twitter account and see what hashtags are trending currently. Or if you use a social media management platform like Hootsuite, you can set up a stream to track all mentions of an industry or keyword. This may help you discover breaking news or topics of interest that will provide fodder for your own trending content.
  7. Tying your organization’s name to the gimmick is critical for maximum impact. My hunch is that if this had been spread as the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” it would have generated even more donations. Because lots of folks simply dumped frigid water on their heads; then challenged others to do so as well. ALS was never mentioned (in fact, the challenge is going through my kid’s school right now in just such a fashion; many of the kids only know that “if you don’t dump water on your head within 24 hours you have to make a $ 100 donation.” They don’t really know who they’d have to give to, but they know they don’t have $ 100 – so it’s something they want to avoid; they dump the water and move on).
  8. You need a plan in place for “next steps” when folks take the action you call for. Once you have your leads, the goal must be to convert these folks into “donors.” Are those who give to the Ice Bucket challenge really “converted?” We can debate that, but I’ll posit that they’re at maximum ‘one-night stands’ until ALS and the other charities who have benefited take concerted action to transform them from singular transactions to repeat and ongoing thoughtful donations.

Is it okay for ALS to simply take the money and run? Well, sure. And maybe they can come up with another challenge next year and bring in a bunch more new donors. Maybe. But… it’s much wiser to convert these leads into ongoing supporters now, thereby securing a strong and certain future for ALS. It’s like the difference between the celebrity who spends all his/her money and goes bankrupt (e.g. Michael Jackson; M.C. Hammer; Debbie Reynolds) and the one who wisely invests their resources to plan for tomorrow.

How will you take the lessons learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge to plan for tomorrow?

** For some fascinating data on how the Ice Bucket Challenge spread, check out The Ice Bucket Challenge, By the Numbers.

Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE contributes a monthly column on Social Media and Nonprofits. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad


Lifelong learner, listener, lecturer, lover, e’lucidator of all things philanthropic, passion-forward and people-centric. Fundraiser. Marketer. Innovator.

Clairity Click-it: Leadership; Lead Conversion & Storytelling; Marketing Communications; Social Media – Clairificati…http://t.co/42s4lmhRQt – 3 hours ago
Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad

Latest posts by Claire Axelrad (see all)

Maximize Social Business