Social media’s role in driving donations for non-profit organizations

Two years ago I filled a bucket with cold water and ice, I poured it over my head and made my friend record the entire event. I then posted on the video on social media to help raise money and awareness for the ALS Association. I was not alone. 17 million people participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge during the summer of 2014, all with varying levels of understanding and involvement in the ALS community. As water was poured, money poured in. Over $220 million in 8 weeks. The year before ALS raised $2.8 million in donations during the same time period. And now, the Ice Bucket challenge is being credited for accelerating ALS research to the point that scientists have discovered a new gene that is found in sporadic and inherited forms of the disease, providing a new target for the development of treatments.

How often do donors learn of such an immediate impact from their efforts?  Never to this degree.

What the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did was revolutionary. Non-profits understand that creating a buzz and viral campaign like this again is difficult. But it speaks to many truths about how non-profits engage with donors, especially younger generations.

What can you learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to effectively engage your donors via social media?

Breakdown channel barriers to engage donors of any age

This grass roots campaign leveraged Facebook’s more than 1 billion users and the power of networks to create awareness and activate donations.  What made it so effective? The campaign could be supported by any age and successfully engaged younger donors with its sharing component. As such the average donor age dropped from 55 to 35.  And repeat donations are higher than last year, meaning that Ice Bucketers have engaged with the cause.  Leveraging new communication channels can allow non-profits to extend the reach of their message and engage new audiences.

Creating campaigns to this success need a strong social media component

In the social world, where donors turn to their friends on Facebook for advice and read the news on Twitter, campaign success cannot spark without a strong social media component. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge challenged donors with one easy call-to-action, which included a way to pay it forward.  The campaign also had a start and end date adding an element of timelines and immediacy – perfect for any campaign.

You need a strong foundation of advocates

This grass roots campaign started out with a group of friends trying to help a buddy battling ALS. This group – best described as advocates – was so emotionally invested in the cause they were trying to promote that it was hard not to take notice. By activating their networks, the Ice Bucket Challenge became a trending topic around the world that engaged celebrities, professional athletes and likely many that had never even heard of ALS before.

Continue to tell your story

The Ice Bucket Challenge started with a heartfelt story and a compelling call-to-action. Even more significant are the stories that have generated two years later. ALS has embraced this successes with the “Every Drop Counts” campaign; thanking donors for their contribution in 2014 and reinforcing the message that every single drop has made a difference in the fight against this devastating disease. People give because it makes them feel good, that they have made a difference. Donors feel even better when non-profits shout from the rooftops about the difference they have made. When it is woven into a story donors feel that they are a part of that fabric.

Tell your story and make your donors a part of it.

It would easy to dismiss this challenge as a one-time event but that would be a mistake. In a world of Pokémon Go, you never know what will stick with this generation of younger donors. ALS made them heroes and now in perpetuity as the success of these contributions are hailed.

Who is next?