Remind Donors of What They Accomplish: An Ice Bucket Challenge Update

Vol. 15 No. 1

advancement eletter Vol15 No1 icebucket

Two years ago, The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association ran an extremely successful fundraiser that encouraged people to donate to their organization, film themselves dumping buckets of water on their heads, and challenge others to do the same. We wrote about the lessons to be taken away from the viral episode and filed it away as a one-and-done subject.

We were wrong to dismiss it so easily, as The ALS Association beautifully leveraged their previous success to offer those of us in the development world another great lesson: Remind your donors what their sacrifices have accomplished, and so grow the relationship.

Last summer, The ALS Association managed to raise $115 million for research efforts in drug therapies and identification of the genes responsible for the debilitating disease. They’ve been fairly quiet publicly since their phenomenal fundraising efforts.

However, at the end of July 2016, they published a press release (1) that trumpeted their researchers’ successful discovery of a gene responsible for the degenerative disease—known as “NEK1.” This breakthrough in itself is a huge leap toward a way to treat individuals who suffer from ALS or "Lou Gehrig’s disease."

The discovery was only made possible by a $1 million grant by The ALS Association to Project MinE, a University of Massachusetts Medical School Project. And that money was directly from the pool of funds raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, according to the press release.

Dr. Lucie Brujin, the Chief Scientist at The ALS Association, said in the release that “the sophisticated gene analysis that led to this finding was only possible because of the large number of ALS samples available. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project MinE’s work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result.”

To clarify: Researchers previously suspected that ALS had a genetic component, but only 10% of cases had a family history of the disease. Project MinE’s analysis of thousands of genetic samples of ALS patients stored in a Norwegian laboratory enabled a “big data” approach to genetic mining that eventually uncovered the NEK1 common gene that causes (or at least heavily contributes to) the ALS disease presentation.

While this is fantastic news for the medical community at large and ALS sufferers in particular, The ALS Association’s announcement reminds fundraisers of the importance of reminding donors how their efforts directly impact the organization.

Donors’ efforts to offer money—and convince their friends or neighbors to donate funds and publicity to the campaign—were not in vain. They weren’t throwing money into a furnace, useful only for the end-of-year tax deductions and never to be seen again.

The ALS Association gave credit for the discovery not to itself (for having thought up the campaign and selected the organization to fund), but to the thousands of donors who contributed in small amounts to the effort.

That sort of messaging not only thanks donors for their previous commitment and efforts on the organization’s behalf, but encourages future gifts, too. It’s an emotional, illustrative case study that highlights one specific benefit that contributing to the larger donation pool accomplishes.

So consider, as we begin the new school year and a renewed interest in the annual fund messaging: How have the previous funds been used? What wonderful events or moments only happened because of your donors’ generosity?

It doesn’t have as revolutionary as the cause for an incurable disease or a multi-million dollar facility. The smaller smiles and everyday moments can be just as revolutionary and impactful to a donor, when put in the right frame of mind. Discover those stories, and share the results of your donors’ love for your school community.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 13 No. 1 4 Viral Campaign Lessons From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
The Source for Advancement Vol. 8 No. 6 "Text 'HAITI' to 99909 and Donate $10 to Earthquake Relief"
The Source for Advancement Vol. 11 No. 2 How to Get People Talking About Your School

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


  1. According to The ALS Association's "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Lead to Significant Gene Discovery"
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