Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my “view” of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
When I saw it happening, I watched with professional curiosity. I love seeing a nonprofit hit a fundraising campaign out of the park! You’d think that as a guy lost his mom less than a year ago due to ALS, I’d have a more emotional connection. But I didn’t. Crowdfunding isn’t something that really interests me. Crowdfunding is more of a fad than a sustainable fundraising model.
It wasn’t until my teenage son challenged our family that I actually participated. You can see the 15 second video of the four of us doing the #ALSicebucketchallenge here.)
We had fun and raised some money for a cause that we knew rarely had much media or research attention. Win-win all around.
Embarrassed by many nonprofit professionals
But as the groundswell grew, I was embarrassed by the response of so many in our sector. We were like so many crabs. “Crab mentality” is a title given to the experience of watching crabs in a soup pot. One crab reaches the rim, has a chance to get out. But all the other crabs pull that one down and all get cooked.
This jealously is really embarrassing and unprofessional. It was exhibited by:
- all the posts and snarky comments putting down the challenge
- the side comments of the “we’re so much more deserving than they are” variety
- the “fact finding” attempts to disassociate the ice bucket challenge from the ALS Association (some were helpful, many seemed intent on putting down the entire movement)
- the op-eds telling the ALS Association they needed to spend the money right away
- the immense about of nonprofit staff and board time wasted trying to figure out how to copy the ALS ice bucket challenge
This isn’t a zero sum game
In nonprofits, we’re so used to working with less. With lack. With need. Unfortunately, that can so color our view of the world that we stop celebrating with our sister organizations. We see one organization getting money and we freak out that that means there’ll be less for us. That somehow there is a finite pie of money and they’re unjustly getting a bigger slice of dessert than we are.
We should be high-fiving the ALS Association on such an amazing windfall. In reality, anything that helps normal people reconnect with generosity helps us all in fundraising! With people in the United States only giving around 2% of their income to charity, we all have room to grow.
When our board members ask us about how we can do that here, we can be just as excited for them and ask what they think would work. Then share with them that it takes board members willing to stand up and be counted. And more importantly, board members willing to challenge their friends!
We’re all in this together
My view on the ALS ice bucket challenge? As I see it, we’re all in this together. Let’s respond with the courtesy we’d expect if we were the recipients of so much giving. (Would we really want others telling us we couldn’t invest the money into infrastructure?!)
And let’s be adults, rolling up our sleeves knowing that fundraising is a long, disciplined process of being remarkable and inviting others to be remarkable with us.
Believe me, critical negativity and open-hearted positivity both attract. Life is much more enjoyable when you attract positive donors.
What if you looked at this cup and thought that it was neither half full nor half empty? What if you were able to look at it and see that it’s always full of something: liquid, ice, or even air?
The resources for accomplishing your mission are out there. And random successes like the ALS Associations should encourage you not grow weary in doing the good work!
First – thank you, for all of the wonderful content, posts, insights, and encouragement in regards to our daily work of annual giving. I appreciate it so very much as I am a firm believer in being a lifelong learner and sitting at the feet of others who have knowledge to share.
Second – thank you, (now this feels like “Jimmy Fallon’s thank you notes” – we are missing only the piano music) for writing an appropriately pointed post in regards to jealousy, “haters,” (as my teens call them), and the success of the ALS challenge. I was very frustrated with colleagues and industry “influencers” naysaying and shooting arrows at what turned out to be a fantastic and creative effort for a worthy cause.
There are lessons to learn, cautions to heed, and next steps to watch as they move ahead to retain and further engage their new donors. And who among us shouldn’t be watching, listening, and learning as we see how this might translate into renewed support for ALS. We should celebrate their success and figure out how to apply the lessons to our own causes.
Thank you again. Keep up the great (and much-appreciated) work!
Thanks so much, Sarah!
Celebrating with you. :)8
You hit the nail on the head, Pitman! Thank you!
Ha! Thanks so much, Erin. :)8
What an excellent article and I couldn’t agree more. I congratulate you for challenging fundraisers not to have the crab mentality – I hear it often in conversations among other fundraisers. Whether it’s an event that was held, who got what gift from Foundation or who, or whose moved to the next “big” organization – it can definitely be a competition among fundraisers. I often think why? The example you shared about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was spot-on. The Ice Bucket Challenge was genius, but certainly would be hard for any organization to duplicate. On a side note, I have yet to be thanked by ALS for my family’s gift that I made almost 2 months ago – not even a form letter or email. I couldn’t congratulate them more and was pleased to make a gift, but my disappointment in the whole thing is no thank you. ALS now has an even greater challenge on their hands to thank, retain and personalize their story with donors. Perhaps they could use some great Fundraising Coaching from you. Again, I wanted to offer you kudos on an excellent article and for your work to empower fundraising professionals like me.
Thanks for the comments.
Ooh…no thank you, huh? A real test for them will be retaining gifts. And not even thanking will make that challengine!
Thank you so much for making a donation to an ALS organization. As the President & Co-Founder of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation based in Buzzards Bay, our Foundation helps patients and families living all over New England as they struggle with the challenges of A.L.S. If you made the donation to us, please give me a call, I’d love to chat with you and thank you personally (508-759-9696). With a very small staff, and in addition to our other duties, we are working on getting all of our thank you letters out as quickly as possible. I am certain other A.L.S. organizations are working to thank everyone properly for their generosity, as well.
Thank you again for helping in the fight against Lou Gehrig’s Disease.