Unless you have been under a rock for the past several weeks you have undoubtedly heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge. According to Forbes, the ALS Association raised $100M from the successful online campaign. This is great for the ALS Association, but those of us who work for small organizations have few options to raise that kind of money in a single campaign. As I followed the Ice Bucket Challenge and its success, it occurred to me that there are some facets of it that we can apply in small organizations to boost our fund raising. I am not saying that you will raise $100M, but implementing these elements will certainly make you more effective.

Ice Bucket ChallengeFirst of all, keep it simple. I can’t tell you how many times I have been to workshops and conferences where trainers advocate complex fund raising strategies that are very difficult to explain to a prospective donor, much less get them to participate. The Ice Bucket Challenge was simple. Dump water on your head, film it, pay $10 and challenge someone else to participate. Make sure that you are going to be able to effectively explain the campaign to your volunteers and donors. Keeping it simple will help you to do that more effectively.

Secondly, be sure you are asking for the right amount. The Ice Bucket Challenge had a $10 donation incorporated for each person who participated. Of course there is no way for us to know how many people actually paid the $10, but since they raised $100M we can assume that quite a few did. The success of this campaign was, in part, built on getting “virtually everyone” to participate.

Obviously there were many people of means, such as Bill Gates. But I saw far more college kids and billgatesyoung adults rather than billionaires. By making the donation amount $10, they made it possible for the vast majority of people to participate. Sometimes we are so busy looking for someone to give $10,000 that we overlook the ten “middle donors” who could give $1,000. Certainly major gifts are important and their need cannot be overlooked. It is also important, however, that we not discount the people who can give more moderate amounts. There are far more of them in the community and those $100 donations add up at the end of the fiscal year.

Lastly, the Ice Bucket Challenge got the acknowledgement piece right. By posting the challenge on Facebook and other websites, the people participating were able to get their 5 minutes of fame and have everyone know that they supported the cause. Additionally, the ALS Association sent acknowledgment letters to all of the people who made a gift.

All donors need proper acknowledgment, and it is our role as fund raising executives to determine what that acknowledgment looks like. I had a donor give a nice 5-figure gift last week and when I asked about acknowledgment, he told me that they do not want their gift publicized. For them, acknowledgement is simply a tax receipt and hand-written note from the CEO and myself expressing appreciation. On the other hand, there are others who make a gift and they want their photo in the newsletter. Both types of people are valuable to the organization, and good donor communication will ensure that your organization knows the appropriate way to provide meaningful acknowledgment to donors.
The Ice Bucket Challenge has been more than just a great fund raising campaign. It will also serve for years to come as a valuable case study of how philanthropy has adapted to changes in the community and technology. It will also show that although some things have changed, things also remain the same. It is critical that we remember the basics of good donor relations and we implement them even as we evolve with the changing times.

Have a great week,


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