Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

IBC Image copyHow can we forget the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC) of 2014? It’s etched into my memory; the craziness and effectiveness of it. What appealed to me during this fleeting period of viral fundraising was the fact that the challenge was meant to benefit ALSA, a “non-profit health organization that is dedicated solely to the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrigs Disease.” The challenge was highly successful, garnering ALSA over $100 million in addition to thousands of new donors. However, new donors didn’t equate to an overwhelming number of repeat donors. If you, like me, have ever worked in nonprofit fundraising, you understand how a viral campaign of this magnitude can be both a blessing and a curse.

Click here for a reflective article about the IBC, its successes and challenges.

I would never go goo-goo for dollars in my fundraising role (not my style), though I understand the desperation that so many nonprofit development officers and directors feel to find a fundraising channel that’s successful and can generate sustained revenue. Unfortunately (as explained in the article above), the IBC is a great example of donor-focused philanthropy. In others words, so many of those videos we saw in our social media circles were for our viewing pleasure only. I’m sure that the majority of those IBC participants had probably never heard of ALS before being bit with the challenge bug. Or, if they had heard of the acronym before, couldn’t cite or spell this specific disease. This is just one example how folks take a mission-driven cause, insert themselves, and delete the importance of the cause.

As a nonprofit employee in a fundraising role, the cause always drives my efforts (and the efforts of my employer, too). As the guy who coined the term ‘donor-focused philanthropy’ explained, this happens when folks “make charitable giving about the giver, rather than about those who need help.”

The article ends with the following opinion: “Does it matter whether [the] charitable giving is thoughtfully considered or simply the result of a fundraising gimmick? That’s the real core issue here.”

Well, the ‘why’ absolutely matters! Many nonprofits exist as a safety net and/or to uphold societal values. Take child abuse, for instance. As a society, we believe that children should not be abused. Therefore, nonprofits form to uphold this value and to support those (children) who are the victims of abuse. Nonprofits often serve as the community’s moral compass, directing citizens to continually support causes that underlie societal values– causes that societal systems (for example, the government) are not always equipped to handle. Many direct/human service organizations consistently uphold and promote their chosen value(s) in order to spur change and retain support. And it’s the shared value that influences donors to give year after year.

So yes, for the recipient, the giving must be thoughtful. Otherwise, donors don’t attach their hearts to their dollars. This disconnection can fuel the popularity of campaigns such the Ice Bucket Challenge. This disconnection, however, won’t sustain programs that support folks who benefit (by way of nonprofits) from the ideals of social well-being.