#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!

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