Soon, the Ice Bucket Challenge craze will burn out. It’s been extremely successful, but as the gimmick runs its course and America goes back to school, the ALS Association won’t keep receiving average donations of more than $1 million per day as they have during the month of August.
Maybe you already have some ice bucket fatigue of your own. After all, how many videos of a friend dumping ice on her head can you watch before you start ignoring them all?
In the short term, it’s clear this campaign worked, even if unintentionally. It’s wonderful they raised so much money. It’s also wonderful that so many people are more aware of ALS.
But in the long term, this stunt’s success has created some big challenges:
- Most only donated because a friend challenged them to do so.
- These new donors may not care about ALS as a long-term issue.
- They likely have no lasting relationship with the ALS charity to which they donated.
So, is there really an opportunity to steward any of the nearly 500,000 new donors up the “ladder of engagement?” Is there a chance to turn some of these impulse donors into lifetime supporters? ALS charities may have hit the jackpot, but now the hard work of cultivation begins.
How can the Ice Bucket Challenge have a long term positive impact for the ALS Association?
The answer can be found by remembering the oldest sales trick in the book.
GET A FOOT IN THE DOOR
This sales trick was described by social scientists back in 1966 as part of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
A fake volunteer worker went door to door asking homeowners to allow a sign reading “DRIVE CAREFULLY” to be installed in their front yards. When shown a picture of how it would look, 83% said no. The sign was WAY too intrusive.
A second (but very similar) group of homeowners was asked the same thing. But this time, 76% said yes.
There was only one difference between these two groups. The second group had been approached two weeks earlier by a different fake volunteer worker who had asked if they’d be willing to display a tiny sign in their front yards promoting driver safety. The sign was so tiny that nearly all said yes.
Just by priming a person with a small request, the door is opened and the person is much more likely to comply with a larger request later.
The authors of the study concluded, “Once he has agreed to a request, his attitude may change, he may become, in his own eyes, the kind of person who does this sort of thing,… who takes action on things he believes in, who cooperates with good causes.”
Robert Cialdini adds to the study’s conclusions in “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”
“Once you’ve got a man’s self-image where you want it, he should comply naturally with a whole range of your requests that are consistent with this view of himself.”
This bodes well for the ALS Association. In effect, they’ve gotten their foot into half a million doors. These new donors are now primed for another request in the future. And they’re a lot more likely to do something positive for ALS than they were even a few weeks ago.
IS THE ALS ASSOCIATION FOCUSED ON THE RIGHT THINGS?
The good news is that the ALS Association’s leadership seems to understand just how critical this opportunity is.
The President and CEO of the ALS Association, Barbara Newhouse, stated:
“Our top priority right now is acknowledging all the gifts made by donors to The ALS Association. We want to be the best stewards of this incredible influx of support. To do that, we need to be strategic in our decision making as to how the funds will be spent so that when people look back on this event in ten and twenty years, the Ice Bucket Challenge will be seen as a real game-changer for ALS.”
This is important. If all of this money is spent poorly, the organization will have squandered public trust and failed to foster a loyal donor pool — one that, if cultivated properly, could last for as long as ALS requires a cure.
Now they need to think past the transaction and toward building relationships.
Awareness is great, and donations are key, but what every mission-based organization needs most are advocates who can be counted on for long-term support.
A 2011 Georgetown study showed that those who participate with nonprofits via social media are:
- Twice as likely to volunteer compared to people who don’t promote causes on social media
- Twice as likely to participate in fundraising events and walks
- Three times more likely to request others to donate
- Four times more likely to ask others to contact their political representatives
- Five times more likely to recruit others to sign a petition
This is good news for the ALS Association, because it doesn’t mean their new donors are necessarily “one and done” supporters.
But to keep them, the organization needs to take specific actions.
FOUR THINGS THE ALS ASSOCIATION SHOULD DO NEXT
With their foot in thousands of doors, their next few communications are critical in sparking a real relationship between the organization and its new donors. But this must be done gracefully (and wisely), or people will feel turned off and a huge opportunity will be lost.
1) Write thank you notes.Yes, everyone wants to feel appreciated, so thank you notes can have a surprisingly positive effect. Granted, with half a million people to thank, it’s not practical for the ALS Association to mail hand-written letters. But a personalized email thanking each donor for his effort in raising both funds and awareness is a welcome first step.
2) Explain how these funds will be used, through stories. One reason people can be skeptical of charities is because it’s often difficult to see where all those donations go. Are they really used for research instead of overhead? Did my donation really make a difference? Making sure the money is spent properly is an ethical necessity. But taking the time to let the donors know how their money was spent is an opportunity to foster a real community. By sharing the stories of people who were helped, the cause will be made personal to these new donors, making them more likely to make a long-term investment in finding a cure.
3) Start slowly. Remember, at this point the ALS Association has only the smallest thread of a relationship with their new donors. They need to date before proposing marriage. Suggest small and specific actions that new supporters can take. Nurture and reward those who step up and do more. Wait before suggesting bigger efforts. For those who don’t immediately bite, give them some time and try again with something small.
4) Provide hope. ALS may not be wiped out with one ice bucket challenge. Finding a cure for a disease can take years, or decades, or longer. Inspiring new donors is important, so they realize that continual progress is being made. Sharing stories of success, highlighting the work of outstanding volunteers, and keeping donors in the loop on major scientific breakthroughs will all go a long way toward making people feel like they dumped all that ice on their heads for a reason. Show (don’t just tell) exactly why and how their support matters. People want to believe that their own efforts, even if modest, can make a real difference.
And it just might make them want to do it again, and again, until ALS finally has a cure.
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