Back to blogging and how about that ice bucket challenge?

My break from blogging has stretched on longer than I anticipated when I stepped away from Generous Matters back in mid-August. I blame busyness for my extended hiatus, but truth be told, the real culprit has been discipline – or more correctly, lack thereof.

Blogging, I’ve discovered, is much like exercising and dieting. When you fall off the wagon, it’s tough to get back on. Not that ideas haven’t been rattling around in my mind during my absence from Generous Matters. There’s a lot I’m eager to explore with you and I look forward to what you have to add to the discussion. So here we go again.


freezing_the_stick_figure_800_clr_10817The big thing while I was away was the ALS ice bucket challenge. More than 2.5 million men, women, and children grabbed 15 minutes of fame with a Facebook or YouTube video as buckets of ice water were dumped over head after head. For six hot and glorious weeks everyone from Hollywood and sports celebrities, to business titans, to the little kid down the block got in on the fun.

Although the dousing was described as in lieu of a gift, enough of the challenge takers followed up with a donation to the ALS Association (more than $100 million), making the less-than-household-name charity the envy of the nonprofit sector.

Then came Labor Day. The ice went back in the freezer and fundraising returned to normal. Or so we can hope.

Copy-cats take heed. You don’t need to be the brightest bulb in the pack to recognize the icy challenge as a fluke of fundraising nature. There’s no manufacturing a phenomenon.

However, there is wisdom in mimicking what the ALS Association is doing to insure that the ice bucket challenge is more than a one-hit wonder, or worse, the organization’s downfall. Three things in particular caught my attention as I listened to an interview with Barbara Newhouse, president of the ALS Association.

You’ll want to watch the video for yourself, but until you find the time, here are


First, the ALSA leadership team hasn’t let the windfall go to their heads. Just because a bunch of folks run, golf, or pour ice water on their heads, don’t assume they give a rat’s patootie about your cause. It’s prudent to ask before adding the names to your donor count, and that’s exactly what the folks at the ALSA have done.

About half of the 2.5 first-time givers have said “yes, tell me more.” If even a quarter of that crowd make a second gift, it will be a huge and much-needed boost to the Association’s future fundraising prospects. As ALS President Barbara Newhouse is quick to remind us, the more than $100 million in unexpected money was amazing, but billions are needed in the quest for a cure of ALS. Newhouse and team are doing all they can to hold on to as many first time givers as they can, knowing that ALS isn’t likely to be next year’s charity cause célèbre.

Second, they haven’t let the unexpected millions go to overhead. Speaking to an NPR blogger, Newhouse described the Association’s situation as sort of like the lottery winner that receives a lot of money and four years later is looking in the mirror saying, ‘What did I do with all that money? Where did it go?’ We don’t want to be that kind of lottery winner. We want to take this money and very thoughtfully plan out exactly what we’re going to do with it.” The late summer philanthropic tsunami has taken a toll on the ALSA’s hardworking staff, yet the board and CEO have resisted bumping up the staff without careful reflection. Newhouse indicates that the organization will invest some of the ice bucket dollars in fundraising and marketing and then track ROI closely.

Third, the ALSA board is fully on board. Board members have been part of saying thank you to higher end donors, in listening to advice from key stakeholder groups about the money should be spent, and in deciding on distribution strategies and timelines. Newhouse is wisely allowing the board to have her back during this time of intense public scrutiny. News releases after the October 31 board meeting – the first since the ice bucket challenge – made crystal clear that the distribution plan is owned by the board.

In recent years, we’ve watched as major charities stumbled in the wake of massive giving. It appears, however, that the ALS Association is meeting its challenge carefully, thoughtfully, and deliberately. Copy-cats take heed. Please.


  1. Thank you for including a link to my Nonprofit Radio interview with Barbara Newhouse! I’m glad it had value for you.

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