Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years ago?

It was a social media phenomenon where people challenged friends on social media to pour a cold bucket of ice water over their heads to raise awareness about ALS. Once called out, people either posted a video of themselves completing the Challenge or donated money to an ALS charity. Many people did both.

The Challenge went viral. More than 2.4 million ice bucket videos, many featuring celebrities, were uploaded to Facebook.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a giant windfall for ALS charities. The ALS Association raised $100.9 million in online donations during the height of the phenomenon between July 29 and August 29, 2014. This compares to $2.8 million during the same, ice bucket-free, period the previous year.

After the success of 2014, a group of ALS organizations tried to relaunch the challenge in 2015. It didn’t really work. The 2015 version raised less than $1 million compared to more than $100 million in 2014. Countless other organizations launched copycat efforts. None came close to becoming the viral phenomenon of the original Ice Bucket Challenge.

To this day we have prospective clients approach us and essentially ask: “I want one of those, can you help me?”. They are basically asking if we can provide them with a magic shortcut to online fundraising success. The answer is we can’t.

A look at the history of the Ice Bucket Challenge explains why. The Challenge wasn’t conceived by the ALS Association or any other charity. While no one is 100% certain, most press accounts credit a former college baseball player named Pete Frates with starting the Challenge. It then grew organically due to its innate virality and the passion of the ALS community.

Essentially, the ALS Association and other ALS charities won the lottery in 2014. Passionate supporters created the Challenge on their own and ALS charities were the fortunate beneficiaries. While winning the lottery is wonderful, it is not a strategy. It is not something you can count on.

In thinking about the Ice Bucket Challenge I’m reminded of Jacob Riis’ Stonecutters Creed:

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Digital is hard work. Success comes from showing up every day and telling your story in a compelling way. If you put in the work, your supporter base will grow organically and the amount you raise online will increase steadily. And who knows? If you inspire enough supporters maybe one of them will turn out to be your organization’s Pete Frates.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.