The Ice Bucket Challenge Epilogue: Data

The Ice Bucket Challenge Epilogue: Data

The conversations about the ALS Association’s astounding success with the Ice Bucket Challenge continue. Blogs, newsletters, periodicals, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter … people are still talking about it. Let me offer one piece of advice: let’s not get distracted by the story and instead focus on the epilogue – the Ice Bucket Epilogue: it’s about the data.

Discussion and debate

Did you know that the Ice Bucket Challenge has its own Wikipedia article? Yep. Did you know that YouTube views of Ice Bucket Challenge events have surpassed 1 billion … that’s with a “b”? It’s true – Mashable reported this amazing data milestone in September.

Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy asked on its front page “Is Raising Visibility a Waste of Time?” And in a related article, the Chronicle discussed the challenge faced by the ALS Association in dealing with 2.4 million new donors.

Wow – that’s a problem almost every nonprofit would like to have, right? I can’t tell you how many places I have read discussions and debates about so-called “visibility projects”.

How do you replicated them? What’s the next “ice bucket”? Do these events trivialize the seriousness of an issue? Do they distract donors from developing longer term relationships with the sponsoring charity? Are they reaching new donors who never would have engaged with the charity to begin with?

So interesting. So much to debate. And it all misses the point.

It’s all about the data. Let me explain.

“Found money”

There’s a term that gets floated around from time to time called “found money”. The term refers to an unexpected financial windfall, a boost in personal wealth or your business’s revenue – you didn’t plan for it, never saw it coming, and have no idea how you would replace that revenue should you need to. It’s like winning a lottery that you don’t remember playing.

In the nonprofit sector, “found money” would apply to that large donation from an anonymous donor that spikes your fundraising campaign this year, but you have no plans in place to cultivate large donations going forward. Or, it’s like the Ice Bucket Challenge – a grassroots genesis that goes viral in the summer of 2014, generating $100M+. How will the ALSA ever repeat that success?

From “Found Money” to “Found Data”

With the $100M windfall came something just as important – 2.4 million donor names, emails and contact information. That data is the Ice Bucket Challenge Epilogue.

What ALSA does with that data determines whether or not a fantastic visibility event that generated a huge “found money” windfall can be leveraged into a new, higher level of organizational sustainability. How will the windfall impact the fundraising operations and best practices of the ALSA in order to drive greater fundraising success in years to come?

How many charities in the same situation as ALSA would focus on what to do about the found money, and lose sight of what to do with all that “found data”?

Turning data to donor relationships

The data is the key to developing new donor relationships. In the case of ALSA, those 2.4 million new donor records need to be analyzed, cleaned, appended, and managed in order to determine how best to target segments of the 2.4 million. ALSA should not simply send out a fundraising letter or email to all of them. That is a recipe for donor-turnoff and a tarnished brand. Instead, ALSA should start the process of learning about those donors and identifying segments for outreach. The same advice applies to any charity in a similar situation.

It is time for data mining, data analysis, data science. That’s where our team at Third Sector Labs wants to help.

Let’s think about best practices for a minute. Multi-channel fundraising experts, like our friends at 2Dialog for example, would point out the importance of using your new “found data” as a basis for strategically cultivating new donor relationships, not just making new donation requests without learning about your donors. Our donor retention CRM expert friends at Bloomerang would point out the importance of building a fundraising plan around donor retention, a plan that includes CRM technology designed for this purpose.

In other words, don’t simply react to “found data”. Analyze, plan, then act … proactively!

In conclusion

The success of an event like the Ice Bucket Challenge is fantastic. Congratulations to any charity that is able to turn a visibility event into financial windfall. But for any charity that wants to turn the success of a fundraising event into something sustainable, the place to start is the data. The Ice Bucket Challenge Epilogue IS the data. Gather it. Store it. Mine it. Analyze it. Learn from it. Grow with it.

The seeds of hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of long term donor relationships lie within that data. But you won’t know until you put the hard work into data management best practices.

So take that success and become even more successful! It’s your future, and time’s a wastin’ …

Please let us know if we can help.

About Gary Carr

Gary is the founder and president of Third Sector Labs. With more than 20 years of experience delivering software and data solutions to a wide variety of clients, Gary turned his attention to the overwhelming problem of data. Third Sector Labs is committed to making sense of data for the nonprofit industry.

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