4 Viral Campaign Lessons From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Vol. 13 No. 1

development eletter Vol13 No1 ALSicebucket

(Primary image credit to David Phillip/AP Press)

The ice bucket challenge issued by The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association was simple. Either participants donate a small amount to The ALS Association and film themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads while publically “calling out” others to do the same, or donate a slightly larger amount to avoid a filmed dunking. The challenge basically took over the Internet, creating a viral sensation that has garnered The ALS Association almost $100 million in donations. (In comparison, they raised $2.7 million in the same time frame last year, some 3400% increase in donations.)

Like The ALS Association, your private-independent school strives for increased donations from generous people to impact the lives of young students. If you’d like to mimic The ALS Association’s success, scroll down for some lessons to take from their viral marketing campaign to adopt for your own initiatives.

1. Simple is better than complicated.

Jessica Lunk at Business2Community says that the ALS challenge benefitted from a “perfect storm” of factors helping their challenge to go viral. One major advantage of the concept was how simple it was. Far from requiring multiple steps or planned actions—which could decrease momentum—the challenge was “super simple to understand and act upon, so that anyone, and everyone, can participate.”

2. Make it actionable right now, not later.

Remember those chain letter emails that were popular in the late ‘90s? Many of them required you to take some sort of action to avoid a consequence or win a reward: “Share this email with 10 people in the next fifteen minutes or you’ll get hit by lightning!” or “Write your story below this one and your true love will kiss you next week!” The chain email strategy now happens on Facebook and other social networking sites, complete with the same doomsday prophecies for non-participants.

Cheesy, yes. But such verbiage works, as Gabrielle Boko remarks on The Entrepreneur. Since those called out by participants in The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge only have 24 hours to complete their video and donation, the timeline “propel[s] the process forward rapidly,” making immediate participation “a greater priority.”

3. Inform your participants!

One of the greatest critiques of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is that participants get caught up in the silliness of the challenge and forget about the initial reason for the campaign.

Take this snippet from the Today show segment on the Ice Bucket Challenge:

Did you notice that no one mentioned ALS as the original organization that started the movement? Instead, the hosts claim it’s any charity. In fact, Matt Lauer specifically names a different charity altogether! ALS’s work and effort was rendered obsolete in this instance, as the awareness was offered to another organization.

If you want to avoid this loss of support, says Eb Adeyeri for The Guardian, understand that “while the initiative itself [is] incredible, that’s just one part. Underpinning a campaign like [The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge] with information to educate is vital.” So don’t just come up with a fun, easy activity for your community to do to raise money and awareness—make sure people understand why they’re doing it and how the action relates back to the school.

4. Timing is everything!

Finally, Steve Olenski tells Forbes readers that the Ice Bucket Challenge benefitted from great timing. Think about it:

  • Summertime means people are a little bored and more willing to do something silly.
  • The weather’s typically warm, making cold water baths (almost) pleasant.
  • All the unpleasant news coming from Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine makes people more inclined to try something as a “feel-good counterpoint” to the dark world view.

So, when crafting your own potentially viral campaign for donations, consider the timing and the impacts current news, emotional atmosphere, and even the weather will have to either help or hinder what you’re asking people to do.

No one can tell you if a similarly silly or a more serious campaign would go viral for your private school community, as every school is unique. However, keep these lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in mind as you prepare for this year’s Development Office appeals.

(And, if you’d like to know more about ALS, visit www.alsa.org for information on the disease and the donation form.)

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 8 No. 6 "Text 'HAITI' to 99909 and Donate $10 to Earthquake Relief"
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 11 No. 2 How to Get People Talking About Your School

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 12 Strengthen the Ties Between the Development Director and the School

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