Lessons learned from a successful awareness campaign.

Written by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE

(Image: Adobe Stock)

The numbers are staggering. As of August 22, 2014, the ALS Association has received more than $53 million (compared to $2.1 million during the same period last year). The donations have come from existing donors and 1.1 million NEW donors including LeBron James, Bill Gates, Oprah, Jon Bon Jovi and former President George Bush. The story of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has appeared on every local, national and international news and entertainment show. You cannot visit Facebook without seeing a video post of a friend or colleague taking the challenge.

Obviously, the power of social media and the use of video are key components to the widespread success of the campaign to raise awareness and funds for the organization. But why are people taking the challenge? Here are three reasons (a great lesson for associations that wish to increase participation and awareness).

1. It’s fun, easy and accessible. Most people have a bucket, ice cubes and water – or at least access to all three. Combine the ease of performing the challenge with the timing – August – and you can see that it doesn’t take too much thought or consideration to participate.

2. It leverages peer pressure. One of the “rules” of the challenge is to name three other individuals or groups in a very public way to take the ice water challenge or make a donation. At the tipping point of the campaign, it was embraced by entire organizations that wanted to show their human side by videotaping their employees taking the challenge. There may even be some public shaming if you don’t respond. Even if you choose not to dump the bucket of ice water over your head or make a donation, many felt the need to respond to the challenge. Most people, however, took part in the challenge and made a donation.

3. It all began with a real person with a real story. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t begin with a general story about the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The ALS ice bucket challenge began with a personal story of Pete Frates, a former baseball star from Boston College who was diagnosed two years ago and can no longer speak or move his arms or legs. (An earlier version of the challenge began nine months prior but it was unrelated to the ALS challenge). As the idea went viral and donations started pouring in, other personal stories were shared by individuals who also have been afflicted with the disease.

+1 Celebrities and every day folks take part in the challenge. It was fun to watch and see a behind-the-scenes look at the celebrities who accepted the challenge. Every organization has celebrities – or at least well-known and well-respected members who you couldn’t imagine participating in something like the ALS challenge. Ask for their participation. Years ago I created a bobblehead campaign and used our CEO, Gary LaBranche, and our Board Chair, Pam Williams, as the models for the bobblehead dolls. Their support helped the campaign increase awareness and participation in our association.


Posted on August 22, 2014