Despite all of the fodder the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has provided for bloggers, the Twittersphere and the philanthropy intelligentsia, a very important element of this campaign’s success has largely been ignored. As we have all seen by now, there have been hundreds of articles written about the pros and cons of this breakout campaign with several deriding the ALS’ Association’s success and others talking about how to replicate it.
There are few, however, discussing or advocating for the very large opportunity this campaign has created to gain insight into the general public’s perceptions and ideas about a charitable organization and the role of personal philanthropy.
Rather than debating the tactics of the campaign and how the ALS Association should use its very large windfall, we should be discussing how these once-every-few-years fundraising success stories can encourage more people to include philanthropy as part of their everyday life, regardless of the non-profit beneficiary.
As mentioned before, there have been umpteen articles analyzing the pros and cons of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I was personally surprised about several of these articles, one suggesting how this campaign could divert funding from other important groups.
Anecdotally and from professional experience, I am not sure this theory holds much water (pun intended). I would hazard to guess that most taking the challenge not only had not supported the ALS Association in the past, but do not actively engage in philanthropy on an annual basis if not prodded by family, friends or social media spectacle.
The money raised through this campaign is truly remarkable, but it also created an opportunity, however fleeting, to discuss the importance of philanthropy in all of our lives and how supporting a non-profit with an annual gift of $25, $50 or $100 regularly can make a big difference in their success as well as create a more philanthropic society overall.
Julia Belluz offers a fairly thorough analysis of how to conduct some basic due diligence on a charity in a recent piece in Vox. But most Ice Bucket Challengers will not take the time to get into this much detail and implying to a donor (particularly first-timers) that their contribution probably could have done more good elsewhere, can discourage them from giving again (regardless of the cause).
What a great opportunity for a Pallattaesque advertising campaign to encourage individuals to support their favorite charity on a continuing basis. Imagine billboards, Facebook advertisements, and even television commercials with everyday people and -- a smattering of celebrities -- saying, “I don’t need to pour ice water on my head to know that I should be philanthropic to the causes that I care about.” You get the gist. The important point being to encourage everyday people to be philanthropic and embracing that idea as part of their life.
This is in no way a diss on the the ALS Association. I personally applaud creative fundraising campaigns and particularly those that are wildly successful and cut through the media jungle and demonstrate to individuals the importance of philanthropy, even if it includes slightly self-indulgent/embarrassing selfie videos. Matthew Herper touches on this in a recent Forbes article.
Ultimately, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge encouraged everyday people to make a donation to a cause that they may not have been involved with in the past. What we should be doing with this precedent is encourage those who have taken the challenge to continue being philanthropic to the ALS Association or other organizations that are important to them, with or without a bucket of ice water.
By the way, did anyone challenge Vanilla Ice on this thing? I guess they have………!