Seems like everyone these days is either buzzing about the #icebucketchallenge  . . . or they are actually participating in it by dumping ice water on themselves.140811-boston-ice-bucket-challenge-1350_26906d39ac7ead702b45e5b7707b8dc6

ALS says it has raised $31.5 million since July 29, compared to $1.8 million in the same period last year.

They have added over 600k NEW donors.  Pretty impressive!

Your board and executive leaders are probably all wondering how YOUR organzation can pull something like this off.

So let’s make this teachable moment to help everyone understand how social media actually works . . . and how nonprofits can get their OWN cause to go viral.

If your leaders want to make this happen, then they need to understand and agree on what makes social media successful – or not.

What made this phenomenon so successful?

There were a few key factors of the challenge that all fell together perfectly to give it zing, appeal, sizzle and energy.

1. It was funny and playful. Even goofy.

Ask your leaders: are we willing to be playful and goofy? You need to seriously think about this question! I have seen many a cool and quirky idea get watered down by nervous, conservative leaders.

When celebrities get involved, you are on your way to BIG success!

When celebrities get involved, you are on your way to BIG success!

But we know for a fact that whacky and goofy fundraisers work. Check out how a small symphony orchestra created a hilarious – and successful Facebook campaign!

Take away: If you want to break out on social media, be willing to play around with surprise and delight. And even goofiness.

2. Young people cooked it up.

Ok, here’s a toast to the young folks! Generally you guys are more creative – and comfortable – on the social platforms than us boomers. The young folks understand social media. As far as I can see  – they can nail the tone, and the off-beat playfulness that makes something catch on.

Take away: Are you willing to empower some younger people to cook up ideas for you? And are you wiling to let them run with it? Or are you going to want to water it down?

3. Celebrities joined the cause.

For something to really go viral, it takes some well-known advocates who already have lots of followers and media attention. These social kingpins can catapult your message to the stratosphere. So who promotes your cause really matters.

Take away: What celebrities in your community can you reach for your cause?

Maybe it’s just your mayor plus two former mayors. (I’m thinking Three Tenors!) doing some stunt together. How about the head of your chamber of commerce together with a ballet dancer dancing together?  Or your local TV anchorwoman doing something silly for you?

4. Person to person, people called out individuals join in.

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Even Martha got into the act!

To me this is the most important aspect of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s success: People called out each other by NAME to join. It is a person to person to person thing.  I predict that we’ll see more of individuals calling out someone specifically to join in. A general call to action has hardly any power compared to asking people individually.

Take away: What can you set up that can go from person to person to person?

5. People were empowered to actually DO something.

I often worry about huge issues like climate change or world hunger, but I don’t know what action to take to help other than to give a bit of money. I’d love take a specific action that I knew would help. Wouldn’t you?

Take away: can you call out your community to do ONE SPECIFIC THING?
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Wish I could get Bill Gates behind my favorite cause!

Here are some quick ideas:

  • Film themselves picking up the grossest litter they can find?
  • Holding a frog? Naming their frog? (how about a frog naming contest?)
  • Trying to do a big ballet move like a grand jete or pirouette?  (I see a goofy dancing contest!)
  • Bringing a hot meal to someone’s grandmother and taking a selfie? Posting the selfie? (who’s grandmother have you helped today theme?)
  • Reading your very special childhood book to a kid?
  • Packing food into a poor kid’s backpack?
  • Bringing a kid a bike for a gift? Or a warm coat and filming the kids reaction?
  • Kissing your mother or someone’s mother for Mother’s Day?
  • Hugging your neighbor?
  • Hugging your favorite tree? Naming your favorite tree? Writing a sonnet about your favorite tree?

I know I’m getting punchy – but some of these are REAL IDEAS that you could run with on social media. But it has to have a strong element of fun and play for it to catch on.


The possibilities are there. You can bring new attention, donors and cash to YOUR cause – if you are playful, empowering, and you make it fun and social!