By now, everyone on the planet has seen the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Celebrities, politicians, our Facebook friends, and even Muppets are having buckets of ice water dumped on their heads to raise awareness and money for the ALS Association.

kermit ice bucket

According to the ALS Association, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised $41 million dollars for the association in the last month, twice as much as the same period in 2013. It has also brought 739,275 new donors to the association. This is amazing for the ALS Association and research to combat this terrible disease that impacts so many lives each year.

All of us who work with nonprofits, however, have to admit. We are jealous. Go ahead and say it. You know you are sitting at your desk wondering how you can get Zac Efron or George W. Bush to post something on Instagram/YouTube/Twitter about your organization.

Zac Efron

Heck, most of us want to know how to get anyone talking about our organization on any type of social media. We especially want to know how to get the buckets of money poured into our organization that this campaign has generated for the ALS Association.

While we will never replicate the amazing success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, there are some lessons folks who work in history organizations and other nonprofits can learn from this phenomenon sweeping the nation and apply to our fundraising and advocacy efforts.

  • Make fundraising fun – People love doing fun, silly stuff like pouring ice cold water over their head, especially if it gets them attention. What can you do at your history organization that put the “fun” into fundraising? Don’t be afraid to be irreverent. Fancy dinner parties will never go viral.
  • Make it easy to donate – The ALS Association is linking everyone to their website where they can quickly and easily donate $10, $25, $100, or whatever amount to the cause. Do you have the ability for people to donate on your website? Do you promote it on social media?
  • Make it a competition – Part of the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that people can make their friends have ice cold water dumped on their heads. It is a competition to see who can do it in the most extreme fashion or in the funniest way. Is there a way you could create friendly rivalries when planning your next fundraising campaign?
  • Success can come with consequences – Despite all the great publicity about the Ice Bucket challenge, there is some backlash coming toward the ALS Association. People are complaining that the challenge is encouraging the waste of water during a serious drought in parts of the country. There will always be haters. Know how you will deal with any negative consequences from your campaign, especially if it is out of the box for your organization and community.
  • Be prepared in case of a windfall – We would all like to have the problem of twice raising twice as much money as predicted for a fundraising emphasis, but it is more realistic that you might receive an unexpected bequest from a member or some other money not figured into your annual budget. Start a dream plan for your organization. It is so much fun! Take some time and make a list of what you could do if you had money. It will allow you to be prepared if you get unexpected donations or give you fodder for future grant applications.

What have you learned from the Ice Bucket Challenge? We would love to hear your ideas and feedback.

Bethany L. Hawkins is Program Manager at AASLH. She can be reached at [email protected].