Fundraisers know that the best way to engage potential donors—and increase the chance of opening their wallets—is to make a cause personal. It’s one of the main reasons why charities now focus on telling personal stories of people they’ve helped or situations they’ve rectified. But in this age of connectivity, the nature of that personal engagement is beginning to shift. Consider, for instance, this year’s ice bucket challenge. In mid-July videos of friends, colleagues, and family members began popping up on Facebook’s newsfeed. In each one, someone would say a few words, then dump a bucket of frigid ice water over his or her head before challenging someone else to do the same. Within days, the aptly named “ice bucket challenge” went viral and in two short months it raised more than $105 million in funds for the ALS Association. (The group is trying to find a cure for the fatal disease, which kills nerve cells leaving the muscles paralyzed.) That’s a lot of money—the video campaign raised 30 times more in two summer months than the association raised in the entire 2013 fundraising year.
The ice bucket challenge was a success because it tapped into three components of engagement, explains Susie Erjavec-Parker, owner of Winnipeg-based Sparker Strategy Group, a social media and marketing firm. The videos tapped into our desire to help, and created a visual conversation, while offering a peer-to-peer challenge. “It was an easy, accessible way for people to get involved,” and this translated into donated dollars. According to Justgiving.com, an online platform for charitable giving, 21% of the Facebook ice bucket “shares” resulted in a donation. “It shows a huge shift,” says Erjavec-Parker. Gone are the days when a charity could rely on marketing to donors. Now, peer-to-peer conversations are just as, if not more important. “Organizations can no longer hide behind a curtain. With social media people expect transparency; there’s no room for subterfuge. The bottom line is people want to know the impact their dollar has on the cause.”