Deep thoughts on the ice bucket fundraising challenge
Since a twitter chat at #fundchat, I’ve been having deep thoughts on the ice bucket fundraising challenge.
1. Are they really “new donors” or just leads?
I think it might be a mistake to jump all the way to assuming that these 1.9 million new donors (as of Aug 26, 2014) are really donors yet. With new donor dropout rates in the 70-80%s, there’s already an axiom in the fundraising world that your donor isn’t really your donor until they’ve made a 2nd gift. And that’s for people who on their own initiative responded to a direct mail appeal or TV ad.
But these “donors” are responding to a peer ask, like a walk-a-thon giver. The emotional connection is to the asker not the cause.
If I were the ALS Association I’d be doing two things. First, I’d want an engaging and heartfelt thank you that responds to the ice bucket challenge itself. Second, I’d be working on a special appeal, more akin to an acquisition or even a welcome package, that really starts from scratch making its case.
And I’d be doing my math as if this was another new list I was recruiting from.
2. How will the ALS Association use this dramatic increase in donations? And how will they communicate what they will do?
From their press release: As of Tuesday, August 26, The ALS Association has received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 26).”
In my review of their 990 data, this isn’t only more than they received in the same period, it’s more than they have received for the full year, counting their chapters.
On its 2013 990, the national organization reported $19.7 million in revenues. The Annual Report for 2012 in Guidestar was close to that same figure and indicated that this was not combined reporting with its affiliate chapters, of which there are 38 listed on their website. Quickly calculating the amount reported by the affiliates, and reducing the national headquarters total by the rough amount received from the affiliates, the combined revenues are around $53.7 million. So they are already $35 million ahead of last year. And the challenge hasn’t stopped and is likely to keep going for a while. Who knows how much it will raise?
I’m reminded of the fundraising for the 2004 South Asian tsunami. Doctors without Borders/ MSF made the bold move to explain to its donors that it had reached the maximum it could use in tsunami relief. It asked donors instead to contribute to its general emergency relief fund for other needs. The organization was lauded for its extreme honesty.
While I’m sure there are many ALS researchers who could put that money to good use, it wouldn’t be prudent to just dump that funding out the door. I wonder if even a small portion of that funding were reinvested in major gift and planned giving fundraisers what impact it would have on ALS revenues for the long term? But that would take a lot of explaining to do.
I hope that the ALS Association and its chapters have a great strategic plan and a soon to be communicated response to the public on how all of these donations will be used — before the reporters come sniffing around next year to see how the money was spent.
3. The ice bucket challenge is a great example of the power of social proof or social influence.
We’ve written about the power of social influence in fundraising before. See If donors knew what others were giving would they give more?
It’s hard to imagine how there could be any more social influence in this challenge? Your friends and family call you out on Facebook to participate. They give themselves. There’s even a dollar amount as a benchmark. Lots of people you know are doing it. Even celebrities. And once it became a phenomenon, failing to participate makes you look like a slacker, rather than being part of the in-crowd.
When I look at the really high value peer to peer fundraisers, there seems to consistently be a personal challenge.
Maybe this doesn’t compare to cycling 200 miles or running a marathon, but if people were just dumping a bucket of warm water on their heads, would his have caught on?
5. Peer to peer fundraising stewardship needs to keep an eye on the solicitors.
I’m reminded of an organization I know that stopped doing a walk because it had gotten so incredibly labor intensive for the return on investment given other fundraising strategies. So they sent out an letter letting people know they weren’t continuing.
But what about all of those team captains and high level fundraisers who had been raising a few thousand dollars each year for the organization? These were clearly individuals who were highly motivated by the cause. Yet they were casually dismissed as well in the blanket termination letter.
While our organizations turn their attention to trying to get all those pledgers to give again, I just wonder how much stewardship attention they are paying to the people who are out there asking for the donations on their behalf.
Okay, I think I’ve reached my one day limit on deep thoughts on the ice bucket fundraising challenge.
Any deep thoughts you want to share?