The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: A PR Success Story for Non-Profits

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.24.19 PMOne of the accounts I am working on at RLF Communications is the agency’s own social media. I participate in monthly discussions of fun and interesting content for its blog, Orange Slices, and its Facebook page. I am also responsible for creating industry relevant content daily for its Twitter account. Below, is the first blog post I wrote for my internship about how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a true PR Success Story for non-profits.

The idea is simple: Pour a bucket of ice water over your head, share a video of it on social media and challenge your friends to do the same. If you do not complete the challenge within 24 hours, you are asked to donate $100 to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. The idea itself may be simple, but with more than 3.7 million ice bucket-related videos posted on Instagram in a matter of weeks without a single penny spent on advertising, I am utterly intrigued as a budding PR professional by this campaign’s unique ability to attract worldwide attention.

Not only did the campaign significantly increase awareness of the disease, it also generated a large amount of revenue for ALS foundations globally. Between July 29 to August 28, the ALS Association raised $98.2 million compared to just $2.7 million the year before. This campaign was free for ALS research organizations that normally spend significant dollar amounts on advertising and fundraising efforts that produce only a fraction of the results. The success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is leaving many nonprofit organizations inspired to alter their traditional publicity tactics to match the viral Internet age.

Here are three lessons nonprofits can take from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

Be Original
Many nonprofits have got into a rut of utilizing the same tried-and-true techniques to meet their fundraising needs. Whether it is an expensive black tie cocktail affair or a 5-K run, everyone has participated in numerous fundraising events that begin to mimic one another. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge broke the mold, encouraging a diverse group of individuals to support the organization through a fun and unique challenge spurred by competition among friends, colleagues, celebrities and family members. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge showcases the need for nonprofits to think outside of the box to drive fundraising efforts, and demonstrates that “innovative” does not have to be synonymous with “more work.”

Embrace the Internet Age
The emergence of social media has revolutionized marketing and public relations for nonprofits, providing a platform for organizations to quickly and easily share their story and interact with key stakeholders. No longer do nonprofits have to spend large sums of money on big fundraising events and extensive advertising campaigns to share their message, although they may have to pay someone to monitor social media and come up with creative, engaging content and campaigns. While social media management does come at a cost, the platforms themselves are free and can generate a great ROI for nonprofits that are strapped for cash. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge shows that nonprofits should be taking advantage of social media and creating a strategic plan to use these platforms effectively.

Surprise with Positivity
So often we see nonprofits utilizing scare or empathy techniques to generate revenue. While these work, as noted by the SPCA’s continued use of commercials highlighting abused animals, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a refreshing, positive break from these types of campaigns. Think of the Dove Beauty Campaign, which utilized similar positive tactics and has generated more than 4.6 billion PR and blogger impressions simply by embracing “real women” in a world of Photoshopped models. Create a positive, unique campaign, and you’ll see the results.

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