The “Ice Bucket Challenge” led to a $115 million infusion of fundraising support for the ALS Association in late summer 2014. And those robust fundraising numbers are only part of the story.
According to the a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, end-of-year fundraising for the ALS Association is up three fold over the numbers from the year prior. In December 2013, the ALS Association processed 9,618 gifts for $1.6 million. In December 2014, those numbers jumped to approximately 44,000 gifts for $4.8 million.
Volunteer and event fundraising was also up in a big way. According to the same article, revenue from the charity’s fundraising walks brought in $32 million in 2014, up from $22 million in 2013.
According to the ALS Association, the reason for the big numbers beyond those raised during the Ice Bucket Challenge, is the buzz and awareness generated for the Association by the Challenge. Also from the Chronicle of Philanthropy article, here is what Lance Slaughter, chief chapter relations and development officer at the ALS Association had to say about communications success driven by the Ice Bucket Challenge…
“No ad campaign, no public relations push, no news coverage, no celebrity endorsement – nothing could have raised the specter of the ALS Association more dramatically than the Ice Bucket Challenge. And the result is much wider, energized, and healthy base of donor support.”
And that is why nearly every nonprofit organization needs a strong digital strategy coupled with well-promoted digital events. Sure, online fundraising events raise a lot of gifts from new donors (that should be reason enough to invest in digital strategy). But more importantly, online is often the most powerful communication tool a nonprofit has at its disposal. Which is why now is time to invest in this channel appropriately – not just for your annual fund, but for the long-term survival of your organization. Here’s how:
Draft and implement a digital strategy
Email, social media posts, content on your website, location based activity during live events – all of this activity should be purposeful. When a strategy is produced and implemented, when everyone knows why you’re doing social media, it leads to significant boosts in several measurable categories. Dollars raised and donor acquisition are just the tip of the iceberg when a strong and coherent digital strategy is guiding the effort.
Develop an online ambassador program
It’s not just about leveraging your biggest online supporters as volunteer fundraisers – online ambassador programs are at their best when helping to communicate your organization’s message throughout the year. Stories of impact, thank you messages, information about new programs and initiatives – just like a fundraising ask, all of this content reaches a larger audience and is more effective when it is being distributed virally by online ambassadors. Remember, the Ice Bucket Challenge happened because of an unofficial online ambassador’s concept for supporting ALS research.
Invest in the best technology you can afford
Your website is your organization’s most visible (digital) facade … Your online giving form’s ease of use (or lack there of) is often the first impression your organization makes on new donors … Your digital content captures the interest of the world and tells your story to new audiences … Good online infrastructure and technology is not cheap, but can pay for itself quickly. Investment in this area is often something a major gift donor would gladly support (because the companies they own are already having success with digital). Donors expect functional, attractive online properties – don’t disappoint them.
Do the above three things. Do them now and do them well. If you’re not sure where to start, find a partner with experience (there are a growing number of us out there) and make 2015 the year you transformed your organization’s digital presence and positioned it for success in the decades ahead.
Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social, where he helps clients implement digital strategies that lead to successful online fundraising.