The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, etc

I ask people for money for a living.  No, I don’t call people up and ask them to give me their credit card number.  I don’t sell baked goods outside of Target.  I work with a talented team of professional people to create sustainable streams of income for a nonprofit organization that serves poor and homeless people.  We do this through a number of means:  fundraising events, will and estate planning, direct mail program, grant writing, corporate sponsorships, public relations and marketing efforts and most of all building lasting relationships with donors.  

Fundraising is about cost effectiveness and sustainability.  How much does it cost me to get you to give me a dollar and how likely are you to do it again next year?  If it costs me .99 to get that dollar from you and you probably won’t give me another one if I ask you again a few months from now, it’s obviously not a good strategy.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is really interesting from a fundraising perspective.  It’s social media at its best.  It’s been exciting to watch.  Now, it should be noted that this phenomenon developed organically – it didn’t originate with the organization.  In fact, other nonprofits were mentioned in some of the first water-dumping videos.  But someone was filmed with their water bucket, who mentioned ALS. It was televised, and the momentum began.  So, this is more so something that “happened to” The ALS Association than something they created.  They didn’t invent it, but they have had to respond and mobilize to address their new place in the spotlight.  It would be optimal for them to use the money quickly and appropriately (as intended, for RESEARCH to find treatments/a cure) and leverage this media frenzy situation to bolster their income stream for years to come.  
First of all, from an awareness-raising standpoint, hats off to all involved.  Mission more than accomplished.  Secondly, it didn’t cost the nonprofit any money.  That is amazing!  But as far as the money raising part and looking to the future, there are a few issues:
– they received a whole bunch of money, which is wonderful…but…they definitely weren’t prepared to explain what they plan to do with the funds.  The organization’s answer to that question is basically that they are going to keep doing what they’ve been doing (which appears to be slow, methodical research with very high administrative costs.)  This does not make their core donor base of families affected by this disease happy.  They want action – find a cure!  Now!  Cut through the red tape and release those funds ASAP to promising researchers! I’m sure there are laws and processes and procedures.  Public health organizations don’t do their own research – they fund research.  You don’t just throw money at the first person you see wearing a lab coat.  BUT – this is where good leadership comes into play.  GET IT DONE.  FIND A WAY.  MAKE HISTORY!  
Presumably, their fundraising message has, prior to this, been “give us money so we can cure this disease.”  Lesser known disease causes get by on the message that if only there was more funding, a cure would be on the horizon.  In fairness, this windfall probably wasn’t expected, but we should, in this business, ALL be prepared for our prayers to be answered with a huge influx of cash, and have a plan.  Stewardship is our business.  This nonprofit is going to be under the microscope now.  One false move of financial shenanigans will sink them.  People are already noticing how much the higher up staff are paid (a lot) and the proportion of funds spent on travel.  Now, as a fundraiser, I will say this: it’s not wrong to pay organization leaders well, and it’s not wrong for them to travel a lot – there are justifications for those expenditures.  But where are they traveling and are they accomplishing the organization’s goals?  Awareness raising must happen before significant funds are raised.  Perhaps that has been their current, main goal until now.  If so, they better be making major changes to their strategic plan.  A bunch of people on Facebook just did that for them.  Awareness is raised.  Money is there.  They should be moving quickly and if they can’t, people who CAN, should be brought in.  Now.
-this year, it’s the Ice Bucket Challenge.  What’s the plan for next year?  How many of you who gave this year will give again next year?  Unless you have a truly personal connection to the disease, I’m guessing not many.  What this organization needs to do is figure out 1. How to make these one time donors regular donors.  Without a personal connection, it’s not easy.  And 2. What’s up for next year?  This will be the real test.  Every charity on the planet is scrambling to come up with the next cool, interactive fundraising idea.  It will be like lightning striking twice if they can pull it off again.  
My guess is, unless they can come up with the next awesome idea, they will grow only slightly (in terms of growth outside of this current frenzy) as a result of this.  But as far as another year of tens of millions of free money from millions of new donors?  Nope.  So they have millions of dollars this year that they probably won’t get again next year.  That’s tough from a budgeting perspective.  
There is a communication/branding issue also.  Outside of their control, but must be managed.  Als.org is the website many people (self included) cited during their videos. Apparently that is a regional/local chapter of an ALS organization in the New Jersey area. The national ALS Association website is alsa.org  That could be sparking a major internal controversy.  Good for them for containing it so far.  If this was my cause, my favorite charity, I’d investigate that further.
Those are my thoughts from an organizational perspective. As far as being a donor goes, I think it’s great to donate to any cause you feel compelled to donate to. Throw 10 or 20 or 100 dollars toward any charity that has a good reputation, especially if it helps someone you love feel supported.  Those one time donations can push us that last bit to meet our goal.  But it’s not what sustains us.  Have $200 set aside each year to support your friend’s marathon race, buy some raffle tickets for the local fire department, or to put toward the next ice bucket challenge.  But it really is worth considering to choose two or three charities that are closest to your heart, look at your budget and really give as generously as you can.  If you commit to a small number of charities, the impact that you have will be greater than spreading the money around in small amounts.  I encourage you to consider what causes you really care about.  What organizations do you trust to carry out their mission in support of the cause you care about?  Don’t just give your money there, but spend your time. Get involved, go to the gala, form a walk team, and bring your friends. Volunteer on Wednesday nights.  Connect with the people who are being helped.  Learn about the cause.  Become an expert.  Become an advocate.  This is how a difference it made.

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