How to Harness the Power of Social Media Like the #icebucketchallenge

Viral. There are two definitions according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1. of, relating to, or caused by a virus
—This is not what we are interested in at this time (though come cold season we all are!).

2. quickly and widely spread or popularized especially by person-to-person electronic communication
—Now that’s more up our alley.

With the growth of social media and its increasing proliferation into our daily lives, you almost forget how powerful it can be. Even something as silly as Grumpy Cat can become bigger than the cat itself.  A cat with a permanent frown gets its pictures and videos uploaded to the internet. People start retweeting and sharing. Next thing you know, the cat has a movie deal.  If that does not convince you of the power of social media, I’m not sure what will.

Nonprofits have started to realize that social media’s power doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t!) be reserved for grouchy, if adorable, felines. Joining the likes of Movember and #GivingTuesday, the ALS #icebucketchallenge has thrived across multiple social channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and even The Today Show. According to the ALS Association, it’s raised $41.8 million in donations since it started just under a month ago on July 29. That’s a 2200% increase from the same time last year. And no, that’s not a typo.

Looking to replicate the success of the #icebucketchallenge for your institution? Incorporating these three main characteristics can help you create a viral hit:

  1. Keep it simple.

    What’s even more impressive than the amount raised by the ALS campaign is its simplicity. The #icebucketchallenge is exactly what the name says: “It involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. Those who refuse to take the challenge are asked to make a donation to the ALS charity of their choice.” (The commonly suggested donation is $100.)
    By limiting the ways to contribute, you’ll maintain momentum and keep participants on course. They either choose option 1 (in this case, ice bath) or option 2 (donate). And likely those who are brave enough to opt for the former will also contribute by doing the latter, both spreading the message and donating to the cause.

  2. Keep it personal.

    The #icebucketchallenge was co-founded by someone who suffers from ALS (Pete Frates) to raise money for ALS research. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.
    You can replicate this personal touch by recruiting a spokesperson: a student, professor, or alum who has or will benefit from the cause you’re raising funds for. As the challenge spreads across social media, even those users who don’t know the individuals affected will still feel connected to the cause because donors want to see the impact of their donations.

  3. Keep it visual.

    Even the name of the #icebucketchallenge conjures up an image when you read it. Now picture your feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube packed full of pictures and screenshots of your drenched friends. How could you not click on them?!
    The key to getting your donors and prospects excited is to show them what there is to be excited about. Campaigns that encourage documented participation—and the subsequent, inevitable selfie—lend themselves to virality.

Whether it be an adorably grumpy cat or a wet and icy virtual dare, your campaign will gain momentum if you take the time to find something your donors will connect with. And given the success of the #icebucketchallenge and the fundraising campaigns that came before it, how can anyone question the power and importance of social media?

For even more concrete examples of how social media has augmented fundraising efforts, read how the University of Cincinnati raised a million dollars on Twitter and how advancement giving campaigns across several schools and social platforms have helped those schools meet their fundraising goals.

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