Seven “Cool” Donor Outreach Characteristics of the Ice Bucket Challenge

Stende ice bucketAt Eide Bailly, we are interested in nonprofit revenue generation and have established an award to recognize creative and sustainable revenue initiatives. So, we took special notice when dumping buckets of ice-cold water became a “thing” in summer of 2014 as millions of people participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The Challenge was simple: donate $100 to ALS or post a video of yourself dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. Then, challenge three of your friends to do the same. This simple campaign generated more than $115 million dollars for the ALS Association.

Nonprofits around the globe were green with envy of this movement that required no effort or expense by the organization itself. No doubt, this exact effort cannot and will not be duplicated again. However, we can use this as a case study as we think about the psychology of donors and how we structure and implement future revenue generation campaigns.

Here are the 7 “P” characteristics that we’ve identified in connection to this movement that you can reference as you plan your next revenue generation initiative targeted at individual donors:

PUBLIC: The Challenge was public in nature, with videos and photos being posted on Facebook, Instagram, and throughout mainstream media. You saw images of this Challenge everywhere you looked, which allowed donors to be recognized by the communities of people they most care about having an opinion of them, including family, friends, co-workers, and clients.

PRESTIGIOUS: Participating in the Challenge immediately moved participants into a growing and “prestigious” club filled with celebrities, politicians, and admired contacts.

PEER PRESSURE: Each potential donor received the Challenge, not from the nonprofit organization itself, but from somebody they knew personally. Being asked to do something by a specific person with whom you have an existing relationship is a game-changer.

PLAIN INSTRUCTIONS:   The Challenge was simple: either donate or dump a bucket of ice water on your head for all to see on video. And, participants also had the requirement of passing on the Challenge to three others.

PRESSURE OF TIME: These instructions also included a deadline; donors were given 24 hours to act. All of us are more responsive to specific deadlines. If we feel like our timeframe for acting is unlimited, then we will often take an unlimited amount of time to make a move. This piece was critical to the success of the Challenge.

PARTICIPATION: The Ice Bucket Challenge required participation. Involvement with the ALS was not limited to a simple credit card transaction. Some aspect of your donation process required that you do something more than give money – you had to acknowledge the Challenge you received and then publicly (going back to #1) respond.

PAIN: This Challenge required a degree of pain. Oddly enough, there is research by two university professors who conducted a series of five experiments, that shows that a willingness to contribute increases when the process is expected to be painful and effortful rather than easy. This explains why so many fundraisers (e.g. races, polar plunges, the ice bucket challenge) successfully include some aspect of pain.

What do you think? What else make a difference in individual donor response?

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