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The ALS Ice Bucket ChallengeIn normal circumstances, dumping a bucket of icy water over your head would be reserved for high school dares and attempts to put out the random, misfortunate hair fire (which, we hope, nobody reading this has ever had to do). But this summer our news feeds were overrun with videos of everyone from Lady Gaga to our grandmothers pouring ice water over themselves. As many of you know, this is due to the viral fundraising campaign called The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gherig’s Disease”) has received $109.1 million in donations directly tied to the Ice Bucket Challenge (as of Sept. 5th, 2014). But, the viral campaign has gotten both positive and negative feedback (i.e., why are we taking part in a gimmick when the real issue is being downplayed?). 

Whether you’re for the Ice Bucket Challenge or against it, there’s no doubting that this viral, organic, wildly successful campaign has brought in the big bucks and shed light on a few fundraising takeaways for other organizations to glean. 

Which is why The Get Movin’ Crew has written this post for anyone who has watched the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and wondered how they can follow this amazing example of viral fundraising for their PTO, nonprofit, or organization. 

P.S. At the bottom of this post we have several of our favorite Celebrity Ice Bucket Challenges for your enjoyment!

Fundraising Lessons from the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Fundraisers run the gamut from nonprofit cause-based efforts to PTO groups trying to raise money for tangible items like new computers or gym equipment. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of fundraising, we believe the lessons gleaned from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can be used to start making adjustments and improvements that will bring in the big money. (Don’t worry; none of these suggestions require ice or buckets!). 

1. Folks want to be involved!

Quite possibly the most important lesson we learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge is that people want to get involved in the act of fundraising. 

Giving money is the end goal to each Challenge, but there are many steps leading up to this point, including: acknowledging the nominator, stating the cause, accepting the invitation to participate, taking part in the event (AKA getting wet!), spreading the fundraiser to others and, last but not least, referring to the financial donation.

Don't limit your fundraiser by limitingThe ALS campaign, in many ways, has opened up the process of fundraising and invited people to take ownership over these different steps. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge shows us why we should not limit our fundraisers by limiting people’s involvement to the simple signing of a check. When we allow people to get involved through advertising (spreading the word in their own way, using tools or frameworks provided by your organization), promoting (challenging others to get involved with incentives, events or activities/actions provided or inspired by your group), and donating (letting people decide how much to give and in what ways) the fundraiser begins to take a life of its own.

As we have seen from the ALS campaign’s success, getting people involved should be #1 on your list of to-dos for your next fundraiser.

2. People are willing to fundraise for you (if given the tools)

Here’s a fun fact you may not know about the Ice Bucket Challenge: the ALS Association didn’t invent it (or even start it, for that matter). There was no meeting of creative minds to figure out how to manufacture this viral fundraiser. Icy & watery challenges/dares in the name of fundraising have been happening for quite some time.

als fundraiserThe point here is not to delve into the origins of the Ice Bucket Challenge (people have already tried that), but to point out that this amazingly successful fundraiser began organically, due to the sheer drive of a lot of people to have fun while supporting a worthy cause. That drive is not limited to the ALS Association; you can also tap into the charitable, self-motivated community by equipping them with tools & resources to fundraise for you. 

Types of Tools to Consider:

  • Social Media Tools: These can range from hashtags (e.g., #alsicebucketchallenge) to share buttons (like those we have on our Student Fundraising Pages) to Facebook & Twitter posts that people can easily share on their own news feeds. 
  • Steps/Framework: Create a system that will perpetuate itself and that people can follow on their own, like the Ice Bucket steps listed above. You can do this by creating an example video, sending out an informative mailer or email, posting the fundraising steps on social media, or publishing them on your website. 
  • Promotional Goods: Equip people with tangible and digital “goods” that they can display to show their association with your organization. These could be material, like t-shirts and pins, or web-based, like a Facebook cover photo you encourage people to use during your fundraiser.
  • Incentive: The incentive for the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t cost a dime, because it was the simple act of having fun (albeit, cold fun)! Give your people incentive for fundraising on your behalf, whether that be the joy of getting to dare others to take part or recognition on social media or material prizes.
  • Community: Part of the success of the ALS campaign is that practically everyone was doing it. Offer your people a similar sense of community by hosting group events, re-tweeting and posting their pictures or videos of involvement, & by allowing your fundraiser to grow relationally (i.e., encouraging people to share/challenge/promote the fundraiser to friends & family, not the entire world at once). 

3. Big Names=Big Influence

This one is pretty self-explanatory: getting people of influence to back your fundraiser will give it a boost like no other.

In an NPR article about the influence of celebrities on charities, it was said “the ALS Association has reportedly seen donations surge by more than 750 percent compared to the same three weeks in 2013. “ Much of that “surge” is due to celebrity donations and involvement (some of which were more humorous than others, check out our favorites at the bottom of the post).

Now you are probably not best buds with any A-listers, and that’s okay. ​Look around you, examine your social networks and see who is in your community that has influence.

Example? One of our most popular student fundraising incentives is to turn the principal into a human ice cream sundae. In an elementary school, the principal is practically a celebrity because everyone knows him, and each student is willing to do their part in the fundraiser if it means getting to see the principal doused in chocolate sauce & whipped cream!

4. Large profit can come from a multitude of small donations

The Ice Bucket Challenge basically went as follows: either dump icy water on your head and donate $10 or skip the ice bath and donate $100. Which do you think most people choose? That’s right, the $109 million raised for the ALS Association came predominantly from those ten-buck donations. 

Dont limit your fundraiser by limiting (1)The great takeaway here is that the campaign specifically asked for small donations, along with participation to get others involved.

Don’t overwhelm people by requesting huge gifts, instead, let them get involved with the fundraiser and encourage them to give a set, small amount. (Of course, we encourage this method to run alongside efforts to bring in large donations from big supporters, like businesses in the community or alumni members of your organization.)

This quote comes from a great article on about 10 ways to succeed with small gift fundraising, we encourage you to check it out.

5. Not all fundraising costs $$

Here’s the thing: the Ice Bucket Challenge has brought in millions of dollars for the ALS Association without costing them a thing. There is a myth about fundraising that in order to bring in money, you must first spend it. While this is true in most cases (the Challenge is certainly an exception), we think this campaign provides us with a good reminder that we can bring in donations in more ways than one.

For example, many of our suggested fundraising incentives for students are experience-based. We’re talking having lunch on the roof of the school and getting to play the role of gym teacher for a day. Some of the experiences may cost money, but certainly not the kind of cash it takes to purchase expensive technology/toys traditionally used to incentivize. 

Consider adding inexpensive experiences to your fundraising campaign that will encourage people to participate!

6. Always keep the fun in fundraising

This one is so important. Wherever you are and whatever you are raising money for, do not forget to make the act of fundraising an enjoyable, fun, meaningful experience! ALS is a horrible disease and the ALS Association is doing amazing work in research and care services, but the seriousness of the cause does not mean that the fundraiser has to be a downer. In fact, as we’ve seen from the Ice Bucket Challenge, having fun is contagious and if you want your fundraiser to go viral, you’ve got to add in the enjoyment factor.

fun in fundraising als

Now, we don’t want to brag, but at TGMC we’ve kind of got this one covered. We get to work with kids and encourage them to get movin’! What’s not fun about that? 

But, if you find that it’s hard to add fun into your fundraiser, try brainstorming with your team by answering these three questions:

  • Is it physical? Make your fundraising event/experience fun by getting people out of their seats! We do it by having kids run/dance/skip around a track. ALS did it by having people dump frigid water on their heads. However you do it, get people moving!
  • Is it unusual? You don’t want to have your fundraising experience to be something that people can do with or without your cause/organization. Sure, kids can go running without TGMC, but it is only at a Fun Run that they can dance around with Movin’ Max with all of their friends.  
  • Is it communal? Having fun is a group activity, so bring your people together! You can do this digitally, like the ALS campaign, or physically, like a Fun Run or other marathon event. Getting people together is a surefire way to add fun into your fundraiser, just make sure you have something for all those people to do!

7. Never forget why you are raising money

Part of the reason the Ice Bucket Challenge got some bad publicity is because the campaign was accused of neglecting the very reason it existed: raising awareness and funds for the ALS Association. Make sure your fundraiser doesn’t come under similar fire by keeping these two points in mind:

Keep Your Cause Central: Make sure your cause is kept at the heart of every step in your fundraiser. As we said in our Flaws of Your Fundraiser post, when the focus becomes the item (or experience) you’re selling rather than the cause you’re supporting, you have taken away the #1 incentive people have for donating.

Keep Your Cause Constant: As the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge grew it ran the risk of becoming more detached from its original purpose. You may run into a similar problem if you are not constantly restating your cause. A great way to do this is to give updates on how the donations are making a difference (e.g., “Thanks to your gifts we have purchased new textbooks for the school so students can have a well-rounded, long-lasting education.”)

taking away the #1 incentive for giving












Could the Ice Bucket Challenge “Change Fundraising Forever?” 

Now that we’ve gone through the lessons learned from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s worth asking, what does this mean for the future of fundraising? Basically, there are two camps in this discussion, and we’ve provided links to the articles that go more in depth with this question.

Answer 1: The Ice Bucket Challenge could change fundraising forever. Meaning, traditional fundraising methods will need to be replaced for the mindless, gimmicky, & repeatable methods that mirror the Ice Bucket Challenge. People will want and expect fundraisers to have the same level of fun and participatory action and if your fundraiser does not meet these expectations, you could see a fall in donations.
Article: How the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Could Change Fundraising Forever.

Answer 2: The Ice Bucket Challenge is just a new take on an old idea. The success of the ALS campaign is not a radical shift for the entire fundraising community, but it is a great motivator and teacher for future fundraising efforts (especially peer-to-peer fundraising).
Article: ALS Throws Cold Water on Outdated Fundraising Ideas.

As with most debates, the answer is most likely a combination of the two opinions. We would love to hear what you think! Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Facebook.


Our Favorite Celebrity Ice Baths

Because why have a whole article on the Ice Bucket Challenge if you’re not going to post a video of Oprah getting doused in cold water?

Oprah Winfrey:

Conan O'Brien:

Justin Timberlake:

Sources: Miratel, Inc. | Time Magazine | The Epoch Times | The ALS Association | NPR