How the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge could change PR for nonprofits

The ALS Association has raised $70 million since the viral challenge started. Other organizations are sure to look to replicate that success.

As social media emerges from its infancy, we can look back at dozens of fads that it has produced. Remember when people were “planking”? At various times they’ve also been “owling,” “Batmanning,” “teapotting,” and “stocking.” There has been meme after meme, giving those who are in on the joke the opportunity to show how clever they are.

None of these have really meant anything, though, until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Of all the viral sensations, the Ice Bucket Challenge, which urges people to challenge their friends to donate money to the ALS Association and/or dump a bucket of ice cold water on their heads, has been the most meaningful.

Since July 29, more than 1.3 million new philanthropists have donated a staggering $70 million. In the same period last year, July 29 to Aug. 24, ALSA reports that it received $2.5 million in donations.

In addition to the money, it’s also brought a ton of attention to an organization with a relatively low profile. Oprah, Taylor Swift, Bill Gates and hundreds of powerful people have donated and been doused.

But ALSA is certainly not the only worthy charity out there.

The ice bucket challenge has shown us that massive amounts of people will rally around a serious disease in a fun way.

ALSA’s suddenly super-busy spokesperson, Carrie Munk, realizes how special this moment truly is for her non-profits.

“One of the big takeaways is the power of individuals who are so tightly connected to a cause can really make a difference,” Munk told The Huffington Post. “I’m pretty sure that if any company or any nonprofit had all of the public relations dollars in the world to come up with a campaign, we never would’ve seen this kind of success.”

So, what will be the legacy of the Ice Bucket Challenge? I see a few possibilities.

The era of social tagging begins. The Ice Bucket Challenge became viral because of the simple rule that dictated that you have to nominate three of your friends to take the challenge after you. It’s such a simple concept that I’m sure marketers everywhere are kicking themselves that they didn’t think of it to try and sell more product or spread the word about something. Watch out for more attempts at social tagging, and don’t be surprised to find yourself being called out for any variety of future “activations.”

The bar for raising money has been raised. How can the American Cancer Society, which is certainly just as worthy of our donations, compete with the Ice Bucket Challenge? Or the American Heart Association? Or Susan G. Komen? These organizations and thousands more compete for your philanthropic dollars. Expect to see them try to do it in bold new ways. But the problem here is that ALSA didn’t come up with the ice bucket challenge. A group of guys from Boston did. ALSA is riding the greatest wave of user-generated content marketing that has ever been created. This could lead to my next prediction.

An organization or a few will try to fake an “authentic” user-generated campaign, in the vein of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Let’s face it. Tens of millions of dollars were raised for a very worthy organization in an unprecedented fashion. People are going to try to recreate this. And, as we’ve seen with the Internet, these things can sometimes have a dark side. I can see someone trying to capitalize on the social sharing trend by seeding something that is made to look authentic. It’s not an accident that so may skeptics, upon seeing something unusual or eye-popping, immediately wonder whether it’s part of some viral guerrilla marketing campaign.

What do you think the lasting effects of the Ice Bucket Challenge will be?

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