Strategic Lessons From Dissecting the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge has proven that even in a time of philanthropic fatigue, the right call to do something for others can get our attention--and our action.
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Unless you've been under a rock for the last several months, you've heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. You know, the one where a Cub Scout leader dumps a bucket of ice water over his pack? (Oh wait, that's me.)

The challenge itself is as simple as summer fun: you either dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate to a charity, then challenge three others to do the same. This being the age of social media, anyone taking the challenge films a "selfie" and posts it to their social channels.

Earlier this year Boston College baseball player Pete Frates inspired an Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) research. First his teammates in Boston--then athletes and teams around the world--then celebrities--then people like you and me began dunking and donating. According to the ALS website, as of September 10, the campaign has raised $111.6 million dollars and raising

In a time of philanthropic fatigue, this is absolutely unprecedented. Dissecting the phenomenon hat has become the #ALSIceBucketChallenge may shed some light on what influences and engages us to think and act:

Quintessential Engagement
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has the ingredients to create engagement. First of all, it connects us to something we care about--each other. It joins our empathy with our idealism. This is America. We're can-do people. Surely we can find a cure for another terrible disease. There's a deep emotional satisfaction to taking concrete action toward that objective.

Second, it's simple. The Ice Bucket Challenge comes with a clear call to action that's easy to do and easy to share. It doesn't cost a thing and it doesn't take any planning. Just pull out your cell phone and upload your moment of icy agony.

Finally, it has real impact. Your dunking or donation, added to the thousands of others, becomes big enough to break through the noise. The ALS Association reports that after one month of this viral sensation, twice as many Americans are aware of the disease.

What's Next?
Your make-or-break moment under that bucket of ice water is now becoming the A.L.S. Association's make-or-break moment. The key will be if they have the leadership to leverage this windfall. According to a recent Forbes article and The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports, the charity raised $19.8 million in 2013. They've raised more than twice that in a month. What will they do with it?

The worst move they could make would be to hire staff, expand their offices, or field a new advertising campaign. The ALS Association has a good track record in the measures nonprofits use to judge performance, including a healthy ratio of spending on programming versus administration and fundraising. Lance Slaughter, chief chapter relations and development officer at the ALS Association, has said that they will "thoughtfully plan how to use the money to further fund the organization's current priorities: researching the disease and possible cures, providing compassionate care for ALS patients, and advocating for public policies that benefit people living with the disease," according to a Fortune blog post.

We're all wondering about the unintended consequences of such a viral success. Every win breeds its copycats. I personally do not want to see men ripping their hair out with duct tape for the cause of male pattern baldness. Copycats create noise that diminishes the value of the original story. Plus, other charities are worried that pockets emptied for the Ice Bucket Challenge will leave their next fundraising campaigns worse off. Please don't stop giving to the causes you care about after you've dried off from your Ice Bucket Challenge.

Bottom line, Pete Frates' campaign to raise awareness and action has something to teach us all about spreading ideas through social media. Make it simple, emotional, and impactful, then go for it.

Lou Gehrig was a baseball player whose winning streak was ended in 1939 by onset of symptoms of a terrifying, little-known disease. Over 70 years later, not enough has changed and another ball player has become the face of ALS. This isn't about marketing to sell stuff -- this is about epic success in cause-related marketing.

If your collar isn't wet yet, get out there, dunk it and donate. I did.

Nour Takeaways

1. The Ice Bucket Challenge has proven that even in a time of philanthropic fatigue, the right call to do something for others can get our attention--and our action.

2. The Ice Bucket Challenge contains the essential elements of engagement--it engages our empathy, it's easy to do and easy to share, and it has the vitality to achieve real impact.

3. This isn't about selling more products or services--it's about using cause-related marketing to counter our "me-centric" culture by asking us to do something for someone else.

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