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Non-Profit Fundraising: Are We Doing It All Wrong?
Non-Profit Fundraising: Are We Doing It All Wrong?

I know many social media citizens, possibly you included, who are ready for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to dry up. Doubtless, you are also tired of the myriad temperature-related and aquatic puns that bloggers and the media have employed on the subject, but they are just too tempting. We can’t help it.

While I have to disagree with those who are loudly—and might I add shrilly, dear Facebook feed?—calling for the end of a campaign that is, ultimately, doing more good than harm, I share your eagerness to move forward and find out what happens next in the Ice Bucket’s wake. (Yup, one more water pun. Had to, not apologizing.)

The Ice Bucket era?

What does the wild success of the Ice Bucket Challenge mean for non-profits and their marketing partners, many of whom are now in the process of gearing up for their end-of-year fundraising appeals? Will we shift planning resources and outreach efforts towards more fun, feel-good, fundraising non sequiturs? And more importantly, should we?

I hate to, you know, douse the flame of ambition, but the short answer is no. Campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge appear simple and effective, yes, but therein lies their brilliance. They are a product of a secret algorithm known as serendipity, and their organic grassroots origins, according to my very scientific calculations, account for almost 95% of their success.

Let’s soak this in.

We should, however, take notes on the number of things the Ice Bucket Challenge did right. For instance, campaigns that are intended to travel at lightning speed need to be mobile-married, not just mobile-friendly. And younger donors, who are traditionally not thought of as the target “donor” audience, are extremely valuable when you can speak their language.

We should also take the opportunity to let our imaginations run away with us. If someone had formally pitched a let’s-pour-water-on-our-heads-for-charity idea, there’s a slim chance anyone would have gone for it. But it worked. Fundraising dinners and appeals and walk-a-thons and all the other-a-thons absolutely have their place in every non-profit’s toolbox: at the end of the day, they are still a more reliable and responsible use of resources, and non-profits cannot be expected to take big risks with what they have.

But let’s not forget that fundraising is, at its heart, a very simple, everyday action. It’s about asking someone for something, and there are a million simple, beautiful ways to do that without big budgets and months of planning. So put aside the buckets, people, and let’s open the floodgates.