What a weasel is going to tell you about the Ice Bucket Challenge

I have a prediction for you, and I’m pretty sure it’s accurate:

Some time in the next few months, you will be approached by a weasel. The weasel will look almost exactly human, so you may not notice it’s a weasel.

This weasel will have a lot of words, and likely some pretty pictures to entice you. It will all boil down to this: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: I can do that for you.

The weasel is either a liar or delusional. He can’t create a massive viral campaign for you. Nobody can.

So how does it get done? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge clearly exists. There have been others.

The problem is the Lightning Factor. “Lightning” has to strike for a campaign to go viral. And nobody has control over the lightning.

The Lightning is a combination of timing, cultural factors, and a huge helping of luck. You can set yourself up to be ready for it, but the Lightning is an external force. Not something you can create.

For every Ice Bucket Challenge we marvel at, there are literally thousands of attempted viral campaigns that went nowhere. Some of them are truly brilliant and seem to have all the same ingredients as the ones that worked.

But the Lightning didn’t strike.

What’s interesting about the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it was already happening before the ALS Association became attached to it by some combination of luck and alertness. Lightning struck, and they were ready for it.

And boy did it strike. As of this writing, the ALS Association has raised nearly $23 million — more than 10 times what they raised in the same period last year. And they’ve gained more than 450,000 new donors.

Yeah, everybody wants some of that.

But you’re not likely to get it, because you can’t make Lightning strike.

In a way, we fundraisers are accustomed to dealing with lightning. Consider direct mail: A strong donor-acquisition campaign gets a 1% response rate. Out of a hundred pieces sent, lightning only strikes once. But it works because the cost of the no-lightning 99 pieces is low enough that we don’t break the bank. And we can scale the whole thing up so we can end up with thousands of new donors.

The Lightning-strike rate for viral campaigns is far worse than 1%. You only need one strike to win big, but there’s no way to play the numbers — you can’t deploy thousands of campaigns until one goes viral. You get one chance at a time.

The winners in fundraising are the ones who work hard, who pay attention to the numbers, who build smart plans and work them. They don’t let the wild success of their lightning-struck neighbors take them off their path to success.

So when that weasel comes around with promises of viral gold, resist the temptation. He’s like a financial planner who want to sell you a lottery ticket. It is a waste of time and money.


Comments

2 responses to “What a weasel is going to tell you about the Ice Bucket Challenge”

  1. Jeff, you slay me. You posted on exactly the same topic as did I today on Clairification. You have pretty much the same take. We even both used the word “lightening.” Yet you managed to say it in thousands fewer words. How do you do that?!?!
    I truly appreciate the way you are able to cut through the crap and get straight to the point. 🙂
    Even though it’s hard to capture what happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge, I did lay out a “formula” that I hope will get folks as close as they possibly can.
    *I don’t think my training as a lawyer prior to becoming a fundraiser helped me with succinctness.

  2. Jeff, you slay me. You posted on exactly the same topic as did I today on Clairification. You have pretty much the same take. We even both used the word “lightening.” Yet you managed to say it in thousands fewer words. How do you do that?!?!
    I truly appreciate the way you are able to cut through the crap and get straight to the point. 🙂
    Even though it’s hard to capture what happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge, I did lay out a “formula” that I hope will get folks as close as they possibly can.
    *I don’t think my training as a lawyer prior to becoming a fundraiser helped me with succinctness.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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