Early September I was seduced into participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. To be honest, I had to think about that for a few moments. Don’t I support the fight against ALS? Of course I do. In the village where I live, someone suffering from ALS recently died. I have seen what ALS does. But, I usually resist when it comes to going along with the crowd. With over 50,000 donations to the ALS Netherlands Foundation and the total number of gifts reaching € 1,000,000 in a few weeks’ time, the Ice Bucket Challenge has been a massive success. Over 50,000 donations! A hefty windfall for such a small foundation in such a small country. ALS Netherlands normally receives 200 donations per month.
I decided to support ALS and I accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge. I transferred money to the ALS Netherlands Foundation, I poured a can of ice-cold water over my head (well, actually my youngest son did that for me), I made a video, I put it on YouTube and shared it on Facebook and I nominated three friends. I did well and it felt good. People watched the video, some even responded to the video. Friends accepted my challenge. ALS Netherlands, however, has remained silent…
They have remained silent up to this day. So far, I have heard nothing from ALS Netherlands. Yes, I heard and read what everyone could hear and read. Early October, it became known that the director of ALS Netherlands had added a ton of money into his private account earlier that year. He paid back all of it and then disappeared from the scene. He will probably be prosecuted. All in all, the reputational damage, with harmful effects on income from donations, was expected to be small.
Meanwhile, something kept nagging at me. I had participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, I had transferred money to ALS, I had made a video, I had put it on YouTube and had shared it on Facebook and I had nominated three friends. You would expect ALS Netherlands to contact her brand new donors and go and look for more participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge. These donors could easily be traced through bank transfers they made. Participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge can also be traced through social media. Search YouTube for “ice bucket challenge Frans Reichardt’ and my video will show up immediately. It’s just as easy as that.
However, they remained silent. ALS Netherlands missed the opportunity to start a conversation with a large group of new donors. Will over 50,000 donors still be as engaged with ALS and ALS Netherlands as they were at the time they participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge? I doubt it. These donors have not just given for ALS Netherlands. They have given to ALS Netherlands and for themselves. Perhaps also for the person who nominated them for the Ice Bucket Challenge, but above all, they donated for themselves. Yes, me as well.
I am pretty sure that if the Ice Bucket Challenge had benefited an organization other than ALS Netherlands, I would also have participated. I would also have made a donation, would also have made a movie that I would also have shared on social networks and I also would have nominated three friends. I think this is true for most of the other 50,000 donors to ALS. Their sudden support of ALS Netherlands did not only have to do with ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge was not only a success because of ALS, but also thanks to the golden formula in which people could show their friends that they are doing well, and challenge their friends to do so as well. They would have participated if their efforts had benefited any other illness.
Me, Myself and I
Fundraising initiatives like the Ice Bucket Challenge and many others, basically are not about the organization that benefits, they are also and even more about participants and donors. To a large extent, people participate, give, and share with their friends from a well-meant self-interest: me, myself and I. “What’s in it for me?” Well, appreciation and recognition. That’s what’s in it for you. For many people the Ice Bucket Challenge was the trigger to get appreciation and recognition for themselves through a charity. Social media meets that basic human need. Sharing how good a person you are makes you feel good.
At the same time this is what makes fundraising initiatives like this so vulnerable. The wallet of these rather impulsive donors is made of porcelain. If you give them a reason to distrust you, their support is fairly fragile. If you do not thank them and confirm them after receiving their gift, if you do not engage them with your organization and its work, you might lose them just as quickly as you found them.
The Client Listener