An Icy Wakeup Call

In the last week or so you may have noticed your social media being bombarded with people willingly throwing ice cold water over their heads. The ice bucket challenge was the brain child of Americans Corey Griffin and Peter Frates . It was developed as a way to raise funds and build awareness for ALS, an incurable and debilitating motor neurone disease that Frates was diagnosed with in 2012.

The way the ice bucket challenge works is once a person is nominated, generally via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, they have 24 hours to either donate $100 to an ALS charity or throw an icy bucket of water over their head and only have to donate $10. Once the challenge is completed you are able to nominate people yourself, creating a pay it forward type scheme.

This is not the first campaign that has successfully used social media to generate awareness. Who can forget the no makeup selfie, which encouraged women to go barefaced to raise money for Cancer Research? And before that, there was the Kony 2012 campaign that spread so quickly that it caused websites to crash.

However the ALS ice bucket challenge seems to have learnt from and built on the success of past social media challenges. Its engagement of celebrities such as David Beckham, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and even renowned ice queen, Vogue editor Anna Wintour has brought prominence to the cause and inspired the involvement of many people who would do not have a history of charitable support.

Thousands of people, across the globe have gotten caught up in the craze, with many people trying to create the most extravagant soaking possible, trying to outdo those that have preceded them.

It is estimated that in the USA over $70 million has already been raised since the end of July. Considering that in the same time frame last year $2.5 million was raised it is apparent that the Ice Bucket Challenge is having a significant impact on support for the cause. However Motor Neurone Disease Australia (MND Australia) have reported more modest success with only half a million dollars raised so far this year.

So why hasn’t Australia had as much success raising funds for ALS and MND? Obviously as a nation our population is dwarfed by the USA, but still the total funds raised by Australians in 2014 is equal to less than 1% of what has been raised in America in two months. In the USA participants encourage each other to donate to the ALS Association. In the United Kingdom participants are able to text a phone number that will automatically donate to the charity, simply adding the cost to the donor’s phone bill. This easy method of donation has led to over $60 million being raised in the UK, drastically up from $3 million raised last year. That number is especially impressive when compared to Australia, as the UK’s population is only three times the size of Australia.

Australian charities do not seem to be as actively engaged with the challenge and as a result there are many Australian participants who are unsure of how to contribute. The ALS Association in the USA has updated their Twitter account nearly every hour since the Ice Bucket Challenge took off. In comparison the MND Australia Twitter page has not been updated in over a week.

The danger for Australian charities in not harnessing and controlling the Ice Bucket Challenge locally (and other similar challenges) is the spread of what Philanthropy Australia CEO, Louise Walsh calls “slacktivism”. This fairly new phenomenon is where people believe that simply engaging with a charity via social media is contributing to the cause.

While raising awareness is an important factor in growing support for your cause, you must constantly reinforce the message that it is donations that make the real difference. This is where social media can really assist you. It allows you to provide regular updates to your supporters, helping them to feel connected to your cause and keeping your charity top of mind. You must also be clear in your messages about how people can donate and make it easy as possible for them to follow through with a donation.

Worldwide social media charity challenges, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, can present a valuable opportunity for Australian charities to raise awareness and attract new supporters. However, organisations must be willing and able to climb into the driver’s seat, no matter how fast the craze is travelling and capitalise on these opportunities when they arise. This means having systems and processes in place that can be activated at short notice. Organisations which are ready and able to take ownership of opportunities that arise from social media, will have a distinct competitive advantage as we move ahead in this new digital world.

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