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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
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Other nonprofits awed by ALS Ice bucket challenge

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The ice bucket challenge’s phenomenal success is making other charitable organizations rethink how they connect with a younger generation of potential donors.

Since the ALS Association began tracking the campaign’s progress on July 29, it has raised more than $53.3 million from 1.1 million new donors in what is one of the most viral philanthropic social media campaigns in history.

Thousands of people, including celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey, have posted videos of themselves getting buckets of ice water dumped over their heads and challenging others to do the same — or donate money to the ALS Association, which raises money for Lou Gehrig’s disease research and assistance.

Friday morning, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn accepted the challenge, getting soaked by ice water dumped by the 65-gallon bucket at the new Water Works Park just north of downtown.

Last week, Tampa Bay Rays mascot Raymond got drenched, and a half-dozen Rays players recently stood under the bucket of a front-end loader as it tipped its payload of ice and water onto them. Several Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and cheerleaders also shivered under icy waterfalls.

Kelli Burns, an associate professor at the Univeristy of South Florida who focuses on social media, said she was amazed at how the campaign took off.

“It’s an interesting case study because this fundraising drive was not started by an organization,” she said. “It was started by people. It’s organic and that’s part of the appeal. It’s not a corporate message that’s being forced down our throats.”

The campaign, she said, has different elements that hooked people — it was fun to do, it appealed to all segments of the population and it tapped into people’s interest in drawing attention.

“That’s a big thing,” she said. “Everybody wants to have that crazy video they can put on YouTube and Facebook.”

The viral nature of the effort surprised even the ALS Association.

“When someone first showed me a video, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen,” said Alissa Gutierrez, director of marketing and communication for the Florida chapter of the ALS Association. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

“This level of unprecedented giving is (something) I don’t think this country has seen before outside of a disaster or emergency,” said ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk. “We had no idea it would get to this point.”

More than $100,000 in pledges have come in in Florida since July 29, Gutierrez said. In the same period last year, Florida generated just $22,000 in donations, she said.

“This is the new frontier for us,” she said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. This may put us on the path to a cure.”

Soliciting donations typically has been done through direct mailings and advertisements pleading for money or through the use of professional fundraisers, who take a portion of the donations for their time and effort.

“I think this is going to change how fundraising is done forever by nonprofits,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve been in nonprofits for 20 years and there was this thought that if you’re not using a direct mail campaign, you’re not doing your job. That’s pretty antiquated now.”

Gwen Harmon, associate director of community relations for Metropolitan Ministries, which operates entirely on donations, said she sensed something different about the ice bucket challenge when she first saw it.

“I knew it would succeed,” she said. “We saw people taken out of their comfort zone, including high-profile celebrities. I knew it would catch on once they became part of the movement.”

She said fundraising efforts of Metropolitan Ministries, which provides housing for homeless families and helps feed the poor throughout the region, has dabbled in social media, including the “Hello, My Name Is Hope” campaign, which included photographs of volunteers posted on the charity’s Facebook and Pinterest websites, urging people to donate or volunteer.

Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, said the success of the ice bucket challenge has been remarkable. Her staff this week participated in the ALS challenge, she said, along with other animal rescue groups and shelters around the Tampa Bay region.

Already, the local Humane Society has been using social media to accomplish its mission, which is to get animals into good homes. Facebook and Twitter postings of dogs and cats often meet with more success than in the past, she said. Raising money through social media sites is something that needs to be looked at, Silk said.

“We have to think of new and different ways of getting the public’s attention to support our cause as well,” she said. “Animals are at bottom of the heap when it comes to donated dollars. It has been a challenge.”

The ice bucket challenge is a great idea, she said, “and a lot of charities will be coming up with their own ideas. It’s difficult, though. There are so many great charities out there, and donor dollars are sparse.”

Employing technology for fundraising campaigns, of course, isn’t a new idea: Perhaps one of the most enduring began in 1966 when the Muscular Dystrophy Association had its first annual Labor Day weekend telethon. Last year, it raised $59.6 million in contributions. Fundraisers have also embraced donating by text message in recent years.

But some fundraisers contend that one of their greatest challenges is asking the same people for money year after year — a challenge successful social media campaigns could solve.

Mindy Bailey, corporate and community development specialist for JDRF, a foundation that raises money to fight Type 1 juvenile diabetes, said volunteers want to come up with a similar idea to fuel donations.

“We have had a lot of people reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do the ice bucket challenge,”’ Bailey said. “Recently we had a woman say, ‘I’m thinking of doing a pie-in-your-face idea.’ The wheels have been turning.”

However, not everyone is a fan of the public approach of the ice bucket challenge.

#NoIceBucketChallenge is a hashtag on Twitter that’s being used for a variety of reasons.

“I just think it seems hokey and far too gimmicky and a hot trend and part of the whole ‘me’ culture of ‘Oh look at me. Pay attention to me,”’ said Cameron Mitchell of New York. “The charity part seems like an afterthought.”

Some even argue that it’s wasteful to dump water, even for a cause, especially in places like California, where there’s a drought.

Annoyed, impressed or otherwise, the ice bucket challenge has people talking — and ALS’ Munk asserts that even if they don’t donate, the campaign has raised public awareness, a major focus of the organization that last year spent 32 percent of its annual budget on public and professional education and 27 percent on research.

Just a few years ago, she said, only about 50 percent of Americans knew what ALS is.

“We’re really looking forward to see how the needle moves,” she said.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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