This month, expect your Facebook page to be deluged with videos of friends and celebrities dumping buckets of ice water on themselves. August marks the return of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Hard to believe it was just one year ago that the first Ice Bucket Challenge became an Internet and fundraising phenomenon. Even harder to comprehend is that the Challenge didn’t begin with the ALS Association. In fact, the viral video campaign became both the largest breakthrough and crisis the nonprofit organization had ever managed.
MANAGING A CAMPAIGN THAT YOU DIDN’T INITIATE
Speaking at last month’s AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference, Carrie Munk, chief communications and marketing officer at the ALS Association, said she was at an off-site planning meeting last year when she heard about an unexplained spike in donations. What Munk and her organization would soon learn is that a professional golfer named Chris Kennedy had challenged his sister, Jeanette Senerchia in New York, to dump a bucket of ice water on her head in honor of her husband Anthony who has ALS. The challenge quickly spread on Facebook, where Pat Quinn and Pete Frates, two well known men battling the disease, used their social networks to propel the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge out of the Northeast and around the globe.
Within a matter of days, Munk found herself in the unusual position of having to answer questions and provide deliverables for a campaign that she didn’t start, all the while trying to leverage this incredible windfall. Fortunately, Munk had previously spent eight years of her career at the American Red Cross where she was part of a department that regularly responded to crises. She echoed the words of her former boss at the American Red Cross when directing her small communications team of five at the ALS Association: “Get to your battle stations.”
The ALS Association created an Ice Bucket Challenge landing page on their website and staffed a dedicated email address to handle the influx of questions from the public and requests from media outlets who had picked up the story.
THE 2014 ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE BY THE NUMBERS
These numbers that Munk shared during her presentation at the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference give us an idea of how big the Ice Bucket Challenge was:
- Prior to the Challenge, the ALS Association had an annual operating budget of $20 million.
- On one day alone last August, the ALS Association received $11.5 million.
- The Ice Bucket Challenge raised a total of $115 million for the ALS Association, making it the largest charitable campaign in history.
- Munk says the Ice Bucket Challenge became like the Super Bowl for social media platform Facebook. Some 17 million people uploaded Challenge videos to Facebook and there were 90 million search results for the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014, making it the sixth most searched term of last year.
Great success often invites great scrutiny. Reporters and constituents started questioning where the ALS Association was spending the money pouring in from the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some questioned the organization’s use of embryonic stem cell research, while others took aim at the water wasted at a time when much of the western United States was experiencing a drought. In response, the ALS Association began issuing daily press releases on August 12 through the end of the month. On August 30, Munk and her team borrowed another page from the American Red Cross playbook by releasing a “matrix of truth” that included a point-by-point response to all issues raised.
The ALS Association created a series of infographics like the one above to illustrate how the money raised would be used. They also posted an FAQs page with tips on how to responsibly participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. The nonprofit organization used this information to implement a robust thank you strategy that included a number of videos and images thanking its large new audience of supporters.
One year later, the ALS Association has benefited from all the lessons learned during what Munk has called “the best problem a charity could ever have.” The organization will continue to employ a communications strategy of transparency, education and gratitude. When the ALS Association asked people living with the fatal disease whether they wanted to continue the Ice Bucket Challenge, they received a resounding “yes.” While the organization may never repeat the historic awareness and fundraising numbers they saw during the inaugural campaign, they have committed to hosting the Ice Bucket Challenge this August and every August until they find a cure. Hence the new tagline and hashtag, #EveryAugustUntilaCure.