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A cold, hard look at the Ice Bucket Challenge #icebucketchallenge

20 Aug

Two weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Three days ago, I stared goggle-eyed at the tweets piling up on #icebucketchallenge.

Two days ago, YouTube went crazy with vids of famous people dunking buckets of ice water on themselves.

Yesterday, I watched every single one of them.

Well, almost. Awww, wasn’t Bill Gates the best? Wasn’t Tim Cook’s the most boring IBC (ice bucket challenge for the uninitiated)? WTF was Melinda Gates thinking, wearing that top hat from Toyland? And Satya Nadella, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Conan O’Brien, Sania Mirza… how sporting of them! Not to mention the scores of lonely hopefuls who dunked themselves in their living rooms, shot it on a shaky handycam balanced on the TV, set to the sound of canned applause (they must have had to do the cleaning up afterwards, unlike Nadella, Bezos and the others).

This morning, as I crawled into work suffering the chilly after-effects of my IBC Youtubathon, sense returned. I asked some questions. Was the IBC a brilliant campaign that would forever change the face of ALS research and care? Or was it a one-trick-pony that would go the way of #nomakeupselfie and others?

But first, what is it?

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fundraiser to raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US). Most people are unlikely to know the full form, but most do know that Stephen Hawking has lived with it for most of his life.

What the Ice Bucket Challenge has done is capture the public imagination, catapult ALS from being an unknown (and unpronounceable) disease to one that’s widely recognised (the acronym, not the full form) – at least among netheads. And it has raised tons of money.

There are some professional doubters quibbling about the punctuation, of course.

Their No. 1 quibble is:

The IBC is not really raising awareness on ALS – people are doing it as a fad, and will forget all about it when it dies down. It’s a fake campaign.

Sure, Thomas, but the money is very real. And that will support research into this disease that has a life expectancy of two to five years, and ensure better care for people living with ALS.

While numbers are mounting day to day, an August 19 report said that the IBC has raised more than $15 million since three weeks ago, when Pete Frales, former Boston College baseball captain who has ALS, posted the challenge video. 

In the same period last year, the charity raised $1.8 million.

Go figure.

Quibble No. 2:

It thrives on peer pressure.

Peer pressure. One of the first lessons we learn in fundraising class. Tell us fundraising folks something new.

Quibble No. 3:

It feeds the narcissistic side of people.

Hmmm. If people are doing something to raise money for a cause, why deny them their moment in the sun (or in ice water, in this case)? Be generous with giving donors the credit and the glory. And take a deep breath.

I do have some worries, though.

One, the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising more money than ever before raised in a campaign by the ALS association and related charities, but is it enough? Research into life-threatening diseases needs a bottomless bucket. I hope all these $100 donations (except the likes of Charlie Sheen who gave $10,000) add up to enough and more money to support path-breaking research on ALS.

Two, I hope the recipient charities are holding emergency meetings and staying up late at night inking their donor relationship and communication plans.

That’s the only way to make sure that long after all this ice has melted, there will still be a steady trickle coming in.

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Stop mumbling into the blackboard and look your donor in the eye

13 Aug

imagesRemember the scene in the film, The Mirror Has Two Faces, where Jeff Bridges attempts to teach his class math, but spends the entire class mumbling into the blackboard? After a chat with his wife who tells him to talk “to the audience” instead of to the blackboard, he changes his method, looks his students in the eye, finds examples that make sense to them, cracks a joke or two, and sure enough, the students, for the first time in his class, pay attention.

Non-profits often mumble into the blackboard when talking to donors. So many direct mailers and brochures are written in the third person:

“The Sorcerer’s Stone Society helps individuals live for 300 years and longer.”

It doesn’t quite have the effect that this line has:

“Do you want to live for 300 years or longer? Join the Sorcerer’s Stone Society.”

When we talk about ourselves, but don’t bring the donor in, it’s like a RELATIONSHIP that only has I in it (two, in fact), but no U.

Let’s see how we apply this in real-life situations.

Just yesterday, we sent out an email newsletter to donors of a charity. The main point of the newsletter was to promote a social media campaign where a generous donor had promised to donate a certain amount for every Like, Share or Comment on a Facebook post.

The first email subject line that we wrote focused on the benefit (which is usually a great idea) – real change in the lives of boys in a charity’s hostel.

But then we asked ourselves, what did we want the newsletter to achieve? We wanted people to read it – and then quickly head to the Facebook page and like, share or comment on the post. So a more direct subject line was called for.

The first such header we came up with was:

Like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

It still didn’t have the effect of looking the donor in the eye and making the ask. So we changed it to:

Your chance to like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

Suddenly, the donor looked up and we talked 🙂

Bringing ‘you’ into the copy works not just in headlines, but in all your writing. If you want your donor to sit up and listen, use the word ‘you’. And watch the relationship grow.

How to raise funds, one word at a time

19 Mar

I CAN in the UK runs an ‘Adopt a Word’ campaign that provides a different spin on the sponsorship scheme. You can (excuse the pun), the campaign says, exclusively own a bit of the English language for just £15!

The campaign is brilliant in its simplicity.

    1. Search for a word to adopt: I typed in ‘happy’ for a start, and was told that I could own the word ‘happy’ for a whole year, for just £15! If I wasn’t sure about ‘happy’, the website offered me delighted, enchanted, rapt and cock-a-hoop as alternatives. How British. Charmed.
    2. Once you pay up, Adopt a Word sends you an official adoption certificate.
    3. Your donation goes to help children who have difficulty in communication.

We all want to mark territory. Turning this very human desire into a fundraising opportunity is a stroke of genius.

I CAN promotes the campaign through:

1. A separate website for the campaign

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2. A very active Twitter presence with 7,239 tweets, following 1,849 people and with 2,297 followers.

Tweet we liked: If you are looking for a last minute Father’s Day gift, then you could always adopt him a word!

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3.  A Facebook page that could do better:

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They’ve put the word out on Youtube…

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… and you get to flaunt it on your T-shirt or mug.

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Results:

The campaign has so far led to 4,683 words being adopted, raising £70,425 for I CAN (that’s Rs 56 lakh for you.)

Much more fun than writing a proposal, don’t you think?

But if you still think fundraising is all about proposal writing, I’ve got a word for you to adopt. Muggle. (It’s available; we checked.)

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