From Obama to Ice Buckets

Unity in the Community Logo2

Every now and then a new or reimagined fundraising phenomenon grabs people’s attention. The version du jour, for everyone who occupies a dwelling place not located under a rock, is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This post is in no way a commentary on the challenge or the usefulness of an engaging social media initiative to build awareness and raise money for your cause.

The focus is simply on how fundraising’s shiny new thing isn’t really new at all.

After the 2008 Presidential Campaign, countless Board members and non-profit executives tasked their development staff to figure out how the organization could successfully replicate the Obama Campaign’s efforts. At this very moment, numerous organizations are being challenged to come up with their own ice bucket magic.

Here’s the point I’d like to offer for your consideration… you are already doing it.

I would be willing to bet that you are already offering people a chance to be a part of a community and/or a movement – which is fundamental to what made these two particular “game-changers” so successful.

  • If you have a special event where you share an emotionally impactful video or testimonial with your guests (even more so if you conduct a paddle raise immediately following)
  • If your newsletter/website features Board members or key supporters sharing why the work you are doing matters to them personally
  • If you create appeals with a specific dollar goal or one that’s contingent upon a matching grant (large scale–think capital campaign)
  • If you host a walk, run, etc., or enlist a marathon team where people can personally fundraise for the cause from family and friends

In each of these instances, we ask people to be a part of a something larger than themselves–a collective whole that, by its nature, can have a much more significant impact. We just forget to think about it in that way.

Now, there is no question that the volume of success realized by both the Obama Campaign and the ALS Challenge (in terms of the number of people connected and dollars raised) is due in part because each had a substantial global platform to reach out to. Regardless, whenever we purposefully connect to our respective communities, whenever we offer a narrative that people can personally relate to and one that is easy to share with those around us, we are effectively building community for the cause.

The first challenge is discovering how to authentically engage our current and prospective supporters in a way that builds on that sense of community and people’s innate desire to be a part of it.

After “being asked” and “having a personal connection to the cause/organization,” one of the key reasons people make charitable contributions is because they have an opportunity to belong to something larger than themselves, to participate in a meaningful way. “You can make a difference, your voice, your vote, your $10 and your bucket of ice will add to the momentum and help make an impact for people in need.” Once people have a sense that they have a role to play and we make it simple for them to take action, the odds that they will embrace that opportunity increase significantly.

The next and even more important challenge is to engage and enlist as many of our new found community members into a meaningful relationship with the organization. Think about your special event attendees or the donors to your walk-a-thon, if you can cultivate and motivate 10-20% of people who answer the call-to-action into becoming longer-term supporters of (and/or volunteers with) your organization, you are on your way to building sustainable success that will absolutely outlive the next fundraising craze.

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David Gee

David Gee is a non-profit professional with a particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the Laurus Strategies team as a Senior Consultant after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development for over seven years. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David currently serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee and the Cara Program’s Major Gift Committee.

Headquartered in Chicago, Laurus Strategies has a passion for helping nonprofits advance their mission. Laurus Strategies’ Non Profit and Public Affairs Consulting Group provides a wide range of fundraising, strategic planning, training and leadership services with a proven track record of success. Together, the team has over 80 years of experience and has helped clients raise over $650,000,000.

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