What’s Next On The (Ice) Bucket List?

By Naomi Korb Weiss

It’s amazing what some buckets, ice and a little adrenaline can create in this world: over $30 million in donations and hundreds of thousands of new donors supporting treatment and prevention for a degenerative disease. Everyone from children to politicians to celebrities is jumping in to support the cause. This video alone will make you cry, and at the very least, millions more now know of the foundation’s existence.

But I also feel some internal tension about this wildly successful campaign, dubbed the Ice Bucket Challenge. (And it’s not just my fear of freezing cold water).

While there are varied stories about the origins of the challenge, it seems there was a large amount of luck at play with the extent of its viral success. Reports point to a golfer and a baseball player who each popularized the challenge, and then social media went crazy. I imagine the foundation never dreamed it would succeed as it did – in fact, it seems to have been driven by individuals, not by the foundation. Though the foundation has reportedly raised money from 637,527 new donors (not all directly through the challenge), it does raise the question of whether these donors are giving sincerely, whether they can articulate a single sentence about the disease, whether they will ever give again to this foundation, and how their inclination to philanthropy will be influenced in the future.

There is no apparent connection between ice water and ALS, as far as I understand. What is effective about the challenge is its simple shock value, which makes it memorable and innovative.

There is no question in my mind that hundreds if not thousands of nonprofit professionals are sitting in conference rooms today discussing how to create the ‘next ice bucket challenge.’ Brainstorming, evaluating, testing – not realizing it’s just not gonna work. Fatigue will arise quickly, and any new fundraising challenge using social media that remotely sniffs of this one will be brushed off. Sadly, a few weeks from now this challenge will be a distant memory.

What IS important to glean from this case study is the power of social pressure and virtual community, the beauty of innovation and the possibilities of grassroots philanthropy. What’s more, this campaign will inspire innovation. It will push individuals and organizations to think differently – to realize that people are thirsting (no pun intended) for engagement and community, that small donations matter, that giving can be easy and that we are one globally interconnected world.

Working with hundreds of social entrepreneurs across the globe, I get asked nearly every day what the ‘next birthright israel’ will be. Guess what? We can’t predict it. And what’s more, the ‘revolutionary’ ideas generally happen by accident, or through iterations. What we can do is inspire, equip and connect individuals and organizations to create impact, and celebrate the positive social change we create.

Personally, my next challenge will be in a sauna…

Naomi Korb Weiss is CEO of PresenTense Group.