Don't copycat the #ALSicebucketchallengeEvery week, I send a fundraising coaching email to nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors. These Kicks are designed to remind them to get out from behind their desk to interact with 5-10 major donors and prospects. I rarely share these Fundraising Kicks with anyone but them. But this week there will be hundreds, possibly thousands, of board conversations about their nonprofit can copy the uber-successful ALS ice bucket challenge.

These conversations are a waste of time. They’re a waste of time because they’re asking the wrong questions.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve participated in the ice bucket challenge. (My video is above.) My mother passed away due to ALS last fall, so I’m thrilled that ALS is getting this much media attention. But it will be a distraction for fundraising professionals around the world.

Here is the entire Fundraising Kick email, just as it was sent. It includes suggestions on what to direct that well meaning board enthusiasm toward.

Subject: Don’t waste time trying to dream up a copycat #icebucketchallenge

Good morning, Kickers!

As leaders of your organization, I need to be frank. The ALS ice bucket challenge is amazing and something to be celebrated. Anything that gets so many people talking about charity is wonderful.

But please stop letting your board waste staff resources trying to figure out how to copy it for your nonprofit.

As of Saturday, the ALS Foundation is reporting a total of $62.5 million raised from existing donors plus 1.2 million new donors. Let’s celebrate that. Yes, if it happened for them, it could for you.

Tortoise and the hare

As far as I can tell, this wasn’t initiated by the ALS Association. This was created by fans. Even that is only partially true. Despite media crediting a man named Pete Frates with getting this going, it seems dumping cold water on your head for charity was being done for other nonprofits in previous years. It may have even morphed out of the much older tradition of “polar bear plunges.” (The research is murky so if you have better sources, please tell me.)

The point is, this sort of sensation is usually initiated by fans of nonprofits, not the organizations themselves. So rather than trying to be the next ice bucket beneficiaries, get your board focused on how to create relationships that move donors to raving fans of your nonprofit.

Then, when a fan sees a cool fundraising idea, she will see how it works for your nonprofit.

Three steps to being ready for the next big thing

I promised to keep these Kicks brief but so I’ll leave you three things to help your board get focused on so you’re ready for the next big thing.

  1. Invest in a great donor database & learning how to use it
    You’ll only be able to create fans if you’re able to reliably communicate with existing donors. And having these systems in place will help you be ready to collect new donor information should you be the beneficiary of the next big thing.

  2. Invest in telling your story superbly
    Fans will be more likely to have you top-of-mind if you can tell them compelling stories. Fortunately, storytelling is a well studied art. I give training I my “Who’s Telling Your Story?” ( But there are literally dozens of great storytelling tools out there. There is also a terrific conference coming this November dedicated to helping you tell your story well. Check it out at:

  3. Remain consistent in fundraising, especially major gifts
    Finally, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t grow weary. It’s exciting to think about hitting the lottery, but the odds are against you. And you have no control over winning. But you do have control over making you 5-10 calls this week. And reaching donors with appeals 2-4 times this fall. And learning to create systems to steward donors well. (There is even a Stewardship School starting up this month. You can learn more here:

Your mission this week

Keep reaching out to 5-10 major gift donors. This week, it might be easiest to do thank you calls. Letting them know how much you appreciate their support.

You might even congratulate them on their #icebucketchallenge video. : )8

To your fundraising success,


P.S. The Stewardship School leaders are doing a special tutorial for FR Kick and Ask Without Fear subscribers next Tuesday, September 2 at 2 p.m. Eastern. To register, or to have staff register, go to:

How are you responding?

That was my Fundraising Kick email to nonprofit leaders this morning.

How about you? How are you responding to the pressure to copy the ice bucket challenge? Let us know in the comments!

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