ROCKFORD — The immensely popular Ice Bucket Challenge benefitting the ALS Association hasn’t just been crowding your Facebook feed.
It’s also turning the world of marketing and fundraising on its head.
Skeptics may have thought the challenge — in which a person opts to donate money or pour a bucket of ice water on his or her head — was more for show than an altruistic way to donate money to fight the neurodegenerative disorder often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But those skeptics have been proven wrong, the association says, to the tune of $94.3 million as of Wednesday. That compares with $2.6 million raised during the same time period, July 29 to Aug. 27, last year. Much of that money has come from 2.1 million new donors.
The huge wave of new donors has some local nonprofits and groups excited about the future of fundraising and truly stunned by the power of social media.
A quick survey of area nonprofit organizations this week showed that they’re not necessarily worried that donations to ALS will somehow divert money from their efforts. They’re just hopeful the spirit of giving will stay strong.
“What the Ice Bucket Challenge has shown is that people naturally have a large capacity to give,” said Roman Salamon, director of communications and marketing for the United Way of Rock River Valley.
“The challenge, efforts like Transform Rockford, those movements turn on the internal philanthropic switch in people and get people in the spirit of giving.”
United Way will kick off its fundraising efforts for the year on Sept. 12. The agency is harnessing social media, using the hashtag #pointofu to get residents to share stories of real people making local neighborhoods better places to live.
Salamon and others acknowledged being a little jealous at not being first to think of a concept as grand as the Ice Bucket Challenge.
“You can’t deny the impact that it’s had on that organization,” Salamon said. “It’s just grown tremendously. Hats off to their marketing team.”
Lisa Novak, executive director of Northern Illinois Hospice and Grief Center, said she’s been impressed that the Ice Bucket Challenge has attracted participants of all ages.
“If you can teach children that people can benefit by their giving, you can’t get any better than that,” Novak said.
But the viral nature of the challenge also reflects the changing demographics of fundraising, a trend many nonprofits are trying to address.
“You look at people in the philanthropic community, and many of them don’t fit the social media profile,” Novak said. “So many people who have the money and the drive to donate are often in their 50s and older. We don’t have the demographic data on these (challenge) donors, but if the videos are an illustration, it’s many ages.”
There’s also the real challenge of sustaining eager new donors.
“Does every organization want that kind of magic? Absolutely,” said Erna Colborn, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois Chapter. “We would love to find more people who are that passionate about doing something and having fun while doing that.
“The challenge is for long-term fundraising. We have many committed donors who have been with us for years and years, and we continue to work with them. I think (the ALS Association) has a huge challenge in front of them now in how to convert those donors into regular donors for the organization and keep them.”
Novak and others said they haven’t heard of any donations being diverted from local charities because of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Donations haven’t changed so far this summer at the American Cancer Society in Rockford, and participation in this year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Oct. 18 is on the rise, said Emily Lapinski, senior manager of community events.
“We encourage everybody to choose an organization and make donations,” Lapinski said. “What’s fun and key about the (Ice Bucket Challenge) is that anybody can do it.”
The American Cancer Society does a social media campaign encouraging people to change their Facebook and Twitter profile photos purple. Chevrolet contributes up to $1 million total for all the “purpled” photos through the Purple Roads website.
Colborn said the Alzheimer’s Association has received some donations from people mentioning the Ice Bucket Challenge. She’s seen some videos online of people naming the organization, and some checks have come in with references to the challenge.
Some people say they are donating half their money to ALS and half to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Colborn said the organization soon will work with a major national consulting firm to look at how to improve the chapter’s social media efforts because “it’s such a huge part of how we get the word out and how we engage with people.”
“It’s so important how we communicate these days,” Colborn said. “It’s all about relationships, building relationships with your donors so they completely understand what your organization is. The challenge the ALS Association has is how do they build relationships now with that many people all at once and sustain it. I wish them every success in that.”
Melissa Westphal: 815-987-1341; email@example.com; @mlwestphal
If you goWhat: Walk to Defeat ALSWhen: 9 a.m. Sept. 20Where: Rockford Aviators Stadium, 4503 Interstate Blvd., Loves ParkDetails: The event is hosted by The ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter. More than 400 people participated last year, and the event raised about $55,000. The public is invited to participate in groups or as individuals, to help sponsor a team or show support for ALS patients, their family and friends.Contact: alsachicago.org