5 Things Non-Profits Can Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Bucket Challenge Photo: Rauglothgor (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ice Bucket Challenge Photo: Rauglothgor (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge worries me a little, because I’m afraid it’ll mean that communication directors at many NGOs will try to repeat the success and I’m really not looking forward to the Oil Bucket Challenge (for the environment), the Blood Bucket Challenge (for Ebola funding) or the Coffee Bucket Challenge (to support fair trade).

The problem is that something like the Ice Bucket challenge cannot simply be replicated – but we can learn from it.

Did you know that the ALS Association, the organization that has made more than 53 million US-Dollars in donations from the campaign (up from 2.2 million USD the previous year) hadn’t even come up with it? Instead, it was started by an ALS Association supporter who did it on his own initiative. It then grew through a series of fortunate coincidences (read the WSJ report here.)

Schuyler Lehman from the Mission Advancement compares it to the ALS Association winning the social media lottery – and he is right. He is also right to follow this up with “The point is that you don’t play the lottery instead of working for a living.”  Or to put it differently: Would you play last weeks winning numbers and expect to win again?

Care about offline

The Ice Bucket Challenge shows that genuine, user generated content can be more powerful than any campaign that has been meticulously planned by a PR agency. But it also shows that first and foremost you need supporters in the real world who are passionate about your cause! I sometimes have the feeling that particularly small organizations and causes are so focused on growing their social media followers that they forget about connecting with their supporters in the real world. To some degree this is of course about money. Connecting with people in real life is more expensive than doing so virtually.

Care about your supporters

I’m not saying you should ditch your Facebook page and instead set up little stands all over the country and sell cookies. The point is, that your social media activities should serve to intensify and increase the interactions your have with your supporters, both offline and online. Growing your base is of course important, but that will happen organically if you take good care of your existing supporters. If you do that, then they will be the best recruiters for your cause. Remember “Kony 2012”? Before Invisible Children had their massive online success, they spent years touring through colleges and building a network of supporters.

One of the key things you need to do online to support that process, is to listen to what your fans are saying and to engage them in conversations. I’m continuously amazed by how many organizations still think that social media is about blasting their message at as many people as possible. If you are not investing into building meaningful relationships with your followers, then you are wasting your time and money.

Clear call to action

The other interesting think about the Ice Bucket Challenge is that many people obviously didn’t take the challenge to avoid donating – they did both. In part, I believe that is because there was a very clear call to action: “Take the challenge or donate 100 USD within 24 hours”. It also helped that people were already primed towards a number (100 USD) and that there was a deadline (24 hours) for them to act. This is obviously much better then saying “Like this post on Facebook to end [hunger/violence/…]” . NGOs non-profit organizations should learn from this.

Last but not least: the Ice Bucket Challenge is fun to watch!

For me, the key things to learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge are:

  • Build and maintain a network of supporters in the real world
  • Listen to what your supports are saying and engage them through social media
  • Encourage them to come up with activities that support your cause
  • Have a clear call to action
  • Try to make it fun

What did I miss? What are the things you have learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

[Update 1 Sept 2014] I found a few related articles on other blogs that might interest you: