The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a fundraising success story the likes of which we’ve never seen before (as of September 15 it has produced $113.3 million in donations and counting) and, in all likelihood, will never see again. It was a phenomenon that emerged organically and swept across the summer of 2014 like a tidal wave.
Like “The Macarena” we may never totally understand how it happened, it just caught on. Most nonprofit professionals understand the event is something of a flash in the pan that cannot be easily replicated. Still, nonprofit-ers working to make a difference in the world can’t help but see all those donations dollars with somewhat envious eyes.
Certainly, creating a unique, memorable and shareable fundraising call to action can be incredibly effective. But rather than taking a lesson from the Ice Bucket Challenge, it might be more beneficial for nonprofits to learn from some other unique fundraising efforts and events that have found success in the past few years.
These fundraising efforts have two key assets that the Ice Bucket Challenge lacks:
- Sustainability – They can be repeated, expanded and built upon.
- Thematic Impact – They directly reflect the cause they are designed to support.
That second point holds particular meaning. While the Ice Bucket Challenge was easy and fun for anyone to do, it does not have an obvious connection to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or the work of the ALS Association. Having an act that people can easily associate with your cause and/or mission is incredibly valuable.
3 Nonprofits with Memorable Signature Fundraising Efforts
Here are examples of three nonprofit fundraising campaigns that have experienced success by inspiring people to take unique actions:
1. St. Baldrick’s
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long, healthy lives.
Their signature fundraising event aligns perfectly with both the organization name and their cause: Head shaving. St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events began as a challenge between businessmen and have grown from 1 event in 2000 to over 1,300 events in 2013.
The bald heads of participants remind people of cancer, and can even spark conversations about the organization and cause. And the act of shedding one’s hair is a highly visual one that can grab attention from traditional media and on social media.
2. Child’s Play
Child’s Play is a gaming industry charity started in 2003 that provides gaming consoles, videos games and toys to children’s hospitals worldwide. While not a large or well-known nonprofit (yet), they have grown their annual donations to $13 million.
One of the key ways they’ve done it, as noted in this IGN post, is through “gaming marathons”—where people play video games for long periods (ex. 8 or 24 hours straight). These signature events are designed to be fun and entertaining, and are often streamed on the Internet.
There is a direct correlation between playing video games and supporting an organization that provides this form of entertainment to children dealing with serious illnesses.
The Movember Foundation is the leading global organization committed to changing the face of men’s health. The Movember community has raised $559 million to date and funded over 800 programs in 21 countries.
The Movember signature event is the annual campaign where people are encouraged to sprout mustaches during what the organization deems “the month previously known as November”. In recent years this event has grown more and more popular and successful.
The act of growing a mustache—a symbol of the male gender—has a direct thematic connection with the organization’s mission of calling attention to men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. It also gives people a lot of fun, creative and shareable leeway to work with.
Honorable Mention: Unicef Tap Water Project
UNICEF (which stands for the United Nations Children’s Fund) is a nonprofit that advocates for the protection of children’s rights. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States.
The UNICEF Tap Project is a campaign from UNICEF USA that encourages people to go without using their cell phones for 10 minute chunks each day (with the time recorded by a smartphone app). UNICEF had sponsors making donations based on phone time contributed, but that has now closed. But people can still use the app and make or collect personal donations.
While the thematic connection may not be immediately clear, UNICEF does a good job laying it out for people: If giving up access to something as non-vital as a phone is this hard, image how hard it is to go without one of life’s essential resources like water? While not quite a signature fundraising effort yet, this one certainly has the potential.
Have you seen or participated in a unique or creative fundraising effort recently? Tell us about it by commenting below.