Ice Bucket Challenge Becomes #1 Social Fundraising Campaign Of All Time

2011 Independence Day Celebration at York Field. File photoSometime before noon yesterday, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the social media-driven campaign that has raised millions for ALS Association (ALSA) during the last three weeks became the largest social fundraising campaign of all time. Congratulations, ALSA, it couldn’t of happen to a better group of people!

ALSA announced this morning that from July 29 through August 20, the Ice Bucket Challenge had driven $31.5 million to its organization, an impressive amount by any measure that came from existing donors and 637,527 new donors.  While the total haul that IBC social media videos produce for ALSA is still uncertain, one thing is already clear: The Ice Bucket Challenge just surpassed KONY 2012 as the most successful social fundraising campaign of all time. According to tax filings, KONY 2012 delivered $26.5 million for the nonprofit that launched it.

SIC_IBC Graphic (082014)

The contrast couldn’t be more striking.  IBC began with a Facebook video from Pete Frates, a former college baseball standout who is now wheelchair-bound because of ALS.  KONY 2012 was a massive, global effort led by San Diego-based Invisible Children, which kicked-off a campaign with a video of its own.  The KONY 2012 video reached 100 million views in just six days, making it the most viral video in history.

IBC began as an organic social fundraising campaign, which meant it built its momentum over time. As the chart above illustrates, it took nearly two weeks to produce $6 million in donations to ALSA.  KONY 2012, given the big splash with its instant viral video, brought in $5 million in the first 48 hours of the video’s release.

IBC is squeaky-clean. It has produced tens of millions for a nonprofit with a mission that is as meaningful as it is difficult to market. KONY 2012 quickly became a hot mess.

Sure, there are people who say IBC is driven by narcissism; others in here in California say wasting any water during an extreme drought is an awful idea. Both are valid points, but that doesn’t reflect badly on ALSA.

As we noted in our post yesterday, the campaign’s virality is attributed, in large part, to its win-win factor, which was summed up neatly by Cassy Horton on Twitter today:


#IceBucketChallenge: 5 Reasons Why It Worked

On the heels of BatKid, the feel good story of 2013, which produced a whopping 1.8 billion impressions in 177 countries and an extraordinary amount of goodwill for Make-A-Wish Foundation, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has accomplished the impossible: Capture the public’s attention — both online and IRL (in real life) — without any bad news about charitable giving.

What makes the Ice Bucket Challenge even more remarkable — unlike Make-A-Wish Foundation with BatKid — is it began as a campaign for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or what is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) without a nonprofit backer. Indeed, what started with a Facebook video by former Boston College Baseball Team Captain Pete Frates on July 31, 2014, quickly ballooned into a national phenomenon that now includes just about every American on the Time 100, save for President Obama, who said he’ll skip the challenge and simply make the donation instead.  (Click here to see IBC videos by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.)

In two weeks, the #IceBucketChallenge produced nearly $6M for ALS Association (ALSA) by August 13. But that was just the start — total giving to ALSA surpassed $11.4M on August 16. I’m sure ALSA wouldn’t of guessed donations would more than double to $22.9M in just three days, as it announced this morning.


Yep. That’s what more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook, more than 4.2 million mentions on Twitter, and 650,000 clips on YouTube (all as of yesterday) will get you.

For nonprofit fundraising and marketing professionals looking to replicate the IBC, here are its 5 ingredients to success:

  1. Keep It Simple: You accept a challenge. You challenge three others to do the same with a deadline. You offer an alternative challenge that’s monetary.  Much of its success is owed to being so simple, participants can do both, as I learned on Twitter yesterday. The whole process should take 15 seconds  — which, coincidentally, is the average attention span of social media users. (#SorryNotSorry)
  2. Make It Spectacular: Unlike other social media fundraising campaigns, most of which used photos, the Ice Bucket Challenge was propelled by short videos.  So, why did it work? Seeing your friend — or better yet, your favorite celebrity or world leader — shiver with pain, if even for a second, proved irresistible.  Whatever campaign comes next can’t overlook this key ingredient.
  3. Say My Name, Say My Name: Yes, not unlike that catchy tune from Destiny’s Child, the name of the campaign must be easy to remember and easy to use in a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Much of BatKid’s genius could be explained here.
  4. Where Are My Props?: We can’t overlook the fact that this campaign owes at least part of its success to the incredibly accessible props it required.  Water, ice, and a container of some sort turned into gold.
  5. Star Power: Alas, the rarest and most valuable of all ingredients — the celebrity endorser. Of course, to have any chance of acquiring this fifth ingredient, the first four must be perfect, and even then,  there’s no assurance of it. Instead, don’t overlook the star power of your local elected officials and media personalities, who will see the benefit of the free publicity and very often can bring to bear their own robust social network. Pro tip: Start this relationship now so it can pay dividends when you’ll need it later.

For those who may stumble upon this blog post in the future, it’s worth mentioning that the IBC undoubtedly benefited from a summer full of grim news stories.  Headlines about refugee children from Central America, war in the Middle East, and the fatal police shooting and subsequent civil unrest in America’s Heartland darn near ran millions of people headlong into a bath of ice water.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as it’s now known, raises just $3M more, it will surpass KONY2012, which raised $26 million for San Diego-based Invisible Children, as the most successful social fundraising campaign in history. Given KONY2012′s sketchy backstory, I, for one, hope its #1 very soon.

Although there are literally millions to choose from, I’ll end with what’s become my favorite IBC video from United Way CEO Brian Gallagher,  who donned proper Washington summertime attire for the occasion.  Enjoy!

NCLR: Leading the Way In Online Organizing

From July 19 to 22, more than three thousands Latino civic and community leaders from throughout the United States assembled for the 2014 National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Annual Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown LA.

NCLR is arguably the most influential Latino advocacy group in the nation.  Each year, its conference attracts leading policy makers and influentials who seek to press the flesh and burnish their credentials with those in attendance. In 2008, when I first attended this conference in San Diego, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain addressed attendees.  This year’s conference attracted notable speakers, such as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, among others. (Sandberg’s talk begins in the LiveStream below at the 59:20 mark.)

Watch live streaming video from nclrevents at


I was invited to attend the conference’s tweetup, which included several other bloggers and a panel that included NCLR policy and social chiefs, as well as VotoLatino Communications Director Jimmy Hernandez.  As was articulated by the panel and participants, NCLR is leading the way among advocacy groups in its use of social and digital tools for community organizing. During the battle for immigration reform during the last two years, NCLR has used Twitter, Facebook, and others to mobilize supporters into action and make appeals to members of Congress through these mediums.  In addition, the NCLR Communications team makes its bones by posting daily on subjects important to its members — home ownership, DREAMers, financial literacy — on the NCLR Blog.

During the tweetup, I argued that there are now a critical mass of NCLR supporters who blog or are social influencers and can be mobilize on a specific issue, not unlike the way the public was mobilized to protest SOPA and PIPA in 2012.  Indeed, the data favors NCLR: Latino youth and adults over-index in the use of social media and mobile apps.

Here I was caught by Denisse Montalvan, who was also at the meetup, while I was talking — with my baby daughter under my arm.

The Social Media World Cup

While more figures on impressions are sure to come out, one thing is for sure: The 2014 FIFA World Cup is the largest Internet event ever.

Both Facebook and Twitter reported that the 64-match tourney produced their highest numbers, 3 billions interactions and 672 million tweets,  respectively.

In the case of Facebook, 350 million people posted about the World Cup over its 32 days; that’s more than a quarter (27%) of monthly active users. The World Cup final between Germany and Argentina became the most-talked-about sporting event in Facebook history.

SIC_fbwc (final)
Source: Facebook

On Twitter, with 35.6 million tweets, the semifinal match between Germany and Brazil broke the record for the most tweets of a single event. For context, the 2014 Academy Awards — you know, the one that supposedly “broke Twitter” with the group selfie seen around the world — generated a total of 17.1 tweets.

To be sure, the World Cup was awfully popular elsewhere on social media.  There were nearly 9 million World Cup videos uploaded to YouTube during the last month. Not to be outdone, mobile video app Vine introduced a seasonal channel for all World Cup related videos.

But undoubtedly, the World Cup was a real-time phenomenon, which gave the advantage to Twitter. Indeed, as Twitter’s blog post on record-breaking tweets per minute (TPM) and the heat map of real-time tweets from around the world illustrate, the combination of television and the Internet made for the first truly global media event in the 20-year history of the Internet.

Light shows origin of tweets during the June 29 match between Mexico and the Netherlands. Fun Fact: With 10.5M viewers, this match became the most viewed telecast in U.S.-Spanish language television history.


Mad Science: Facebook’s Mood Experiment

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Save for the World Cup, news stories this summer have been sort of slow. Yet, social media giant Facebook has already made news twice.

First, in mid-June, The New York Times reported that the social media giant would allow users to alter their ad profiles to give all 1.3 billion of them greater control over their privacy.

Then in late-June, news of a so-called “Facebook experiment,” which already sounds creepy, proved to capture the public’s attention as it became a news story for several days. In case you missed it,  here’s the skinny:

  • The psychological experiment was conducted in 2012.
  • 700,000 Facebook users served as the experiment “subjects.”
  • The experiment sought to alter the subject’s mood by manipulating their News Feed with posts that were either disproportionately positive or negative.
  • As hypothesized, users who saw positive news were more likely to write their own positive posts, and vice versa.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was forced to apologize for what she thought was routine and benign yet “poorly communicated.” Days later, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent an open letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair — Los Angeles-native — Edith Ramirez to “fully explore the potential ramifications of the behavioral experiment performed by Facebook.” See the letter here.

To many who follow social media, this wasn’t news. Facebook, with servers around the world in facilities twice the size of football fields that process 500 terabytes of data on a daily basis, rakes in billions by packing all that user-generated data into hyper-targeted ads for retailers and consumer goods companies and anyone else trying to reach a narrowly defined audience. (In Q1 2014, $FB reported $2.5B in revenue.)

Is your perfect customer college-educated women, between the ages of 29 and 44, with one child who is pre-K or younger, speaks Spanish, uses an iPad, and lives in zip code 91316? No prob. For the cost of dinner at CPK, you can reach them on Facebook.

Looking for Baby Boomers who are divorced, into guns, commute more than 20 miles for work, have grandchildren out-of-state, use an old computer, and live within 5 miles from the Rose Bowl? Yep, Facebook has got you covered.

Presumably, this scary-accurate demographic data coupled with the manipulation of moods would be a means to selling more home security systems and flower bouquets. Here’s our advice: Don’t freak out.  Rather, use this information to make wiser decisions about what you share and don’t share on social media.

1 Billion: Social Fundraising’s First Big Milestone


Industry leader Network for Good made a big announcement yesterday: It just processed its one billionth dollar in charitable donations. Since its founding in 2001, Network for Good has been the go-to online donation processor for tens of thousands of nonprofits in the United States, and serves as the backend for sites that collect donations for nonprofits, such as

Undoubtedly, it will take less than 13 years to process the next $1 billion. As the public’s comfort with social fundraising grows, so does the technology that accelerates it. While Network for Good is not the only kid on the block (leading competitors include Razoo and Fundly), they are, in many ways, leading the pack.

Take, for instance, the integration in 2013 of a mobile-friendly interface that includes mobile pledges. “Many people wanted to give, but weren’t sure about making a donation on their mobile phone. The new Pledge button relieves new donors of that concern,” said Network for Good’s Noah Griesbach, Senior Fundraising Sales Consultant. Griesbach added: “We’ve seen a spike in conversions since introducing the Pledge button.”

Smart move. As we’ve shared many times by now, mobile has now overtaken desktop as the primary way people in the U.S. access the Internet. This means most of the people who’ll see your Call to Action email will probably do so on their mobile. Bottom line: A mobile-ready donation page is no longer an added value – it’s a necessity.

4 Tips to Consider Before Your Last End-of-Year Fundraising Appeal

The time of year all nonprofit fundraisers eagerly await is finally here. If past trends hold, more than 15% of all charitable donations in December will take place during the last two days of the year, the some of which will produce more than $2.5 billion for the U.S.’ nonprofit organizations.

Whether your organization will make an end-of-year appeal by email or social media, consider these four fundraising tips first.


#4: Names Matter
Yes, your nonprofit’s name is a source of pride and something very meaningful to its board members and employees. That said, you should never use it as the Sender in your end-of-year fundraising email. Keep in mind a truth brand managers begrudgingly acknowledge: People do not want to connect with brands; people want to connect with….people.

When formatting your last email appeal, let’s say in MailChimp as in the example below, you will have the option of changing the Sender’s name. As such, make sure to always use the name of your organization’s most recognized and/or respect person as the From name to increase open rates.

Let’s say your nonprofit has a formal relationship with a celebrity or public figure, as is true with MALDEF, which counts among its board members actor and philanthropist Eva Longoria, then, of course, you’d want to use that person’s name as Sender to increase the chance of catching the reader’s eye. Even if you don’t know a celebrity (most don’t), your nonprofit should use its founder, CEO, or board chair as the From name.


#3: Tell Me More
Aside from the Sender’s name, the subject line is the next thing your prospective donors will see. Most – if you’re like me or most of you – are expecting end-of-year email appeals, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit them over the head with it.

When it comes to email subject lines, 1.3 million nonprofits in the U.S. should look no further than the “click bate” that the Obama campaign perfected in 2012. Following their lead, use 3-5 word subject lines that personalize the message and is upbeat, such as “We can do this” or “You do it.”


#2: Shorter Is Better
I can’t help but cringe when opening some of the emails from nonprofits during the holiday season. It’s as if they sat down to write War and Peace.  Don’t do that. Simply put: keep it short.

An analysis of 700 million emails sent through MailChimp produced a treasure trove of data on what works and what doesn’t. Nonprofits enjoy one of the highest open rates of all industries, 47%.

SIC_MailChimp Table (2013)


Yet, the open rate is only half the battle. Your objective is to get the reader to respond to your Call to Action (e.g. end-of-year fundraiser) by clicking on your link.

As the MailChimp analysis found, the effect of content to click ratio on click rates matters: the shorter the content, the higher the click through rate (CTR).

As the graphic below illustrates, emails that began with eight words then link produced the highest open rate of all, 14%. If eight words seems too brief or dire (e.g. Give us money now or we’re closing tomorrow), I’d suggest going with a 33-word or less Call to Action then link, which averaged a 12% open rate. You could always write more after that, then add your link again.



#1: Just Do It
We already know that many people give to charities at the end of the year. What you may not have known is that, in my cases, to whom they give is immaterial. Indeed, I call these people Opportunity Donors. They wake up on December 31 and ask, “What do I absolutely have to do today before the year ends?” For millions of Americans, particularly those who itemize their tax returns, and, as such, want as many tax write-offs as possible, the answer includes lowering their tax exposure by donating more to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Opportunity Donors then fires up their web browser, not knowing where to give, and thus, does a Google search for “charitable donation.” As Google Trends clearly illustrates, there is a huge spike throughout the United States of people searching “charitable donation” or “charitable tax deduction” on December 31.

In fact, as Network for Good has reported, this annual practice produces what is literally a golden window of opportunity – the vast majority of donations on December 31 are between 11 AM and 6 PM. The first good-looking site they see is probably where they’ll give.

While you probably don’t have enough time to change your website to capture Opportunity Donors who don’t know where to give, you’re are likely to find them in your email database and among your social media followers.

If you plan on making an ask by social media on December 31, keep it as soft as possible. As many community managers can attest, the unfriend/unfollow rate jumps every time there’s an urgent appeal – particularly for money – on social media. Instead, share a ‘Year In Review’ or ‘Thank Your For Making 2013 Memorable’ blog post from your website that ends with a donation appeal.

To those in your email database, send your last email sometime between 9 AM and 12 noon. As appose to appealing to their giving hearts, go for the brass tax. In your brief appeal, simply tell them a variation of, “…tomorrow is too late to lower their tax exposure – give now.” The appeal if followed by a link to your donation page, which is stripped down to the minimum number of required fields (90% of people never complete forms online). The entire donation process shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to complete. For some, this approach is too heavy handed; but keep in mind, the Opportunity Donor already wants to give – you’re simply showing up at the right place (their inbox) at the right time (December 31). Everyone else won’t begrudge you for doing your job; the worse that will happen is that they’ll ignore your email.

Pro Tip: Create a list of everyone who has opened your last six to ten emails. Consider these folks your super fans. Take out the names of those who have already given to earlier appeals this month. Now you have a list of super fans who are the lowest hanging fruiting on your Giving Tree. Do not include them in your mass appeal via Constant Contact or MailChimp; instead, send them a personal email, include their name in the subject line, share with them how meaningful it would be to see them give in any amount before midnight. If they do give, and many will, your organization is likely to count on them as a donor for years to come.

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