The power of viral (Guest Post)

In this guest post, Luke McCarthy of Makerble looks at what charities can learn from viral campaigns, particularly the recent Ice Bucket Challenge.

| 25th Sep 14

This guest post is from Luke McCarthy, who is currently working with groundbreaking new funding platform Makerble, helping charities to acquire donors who care about their cause. He has worked in a number of roles in the voluntary sector specialising in demonstrating and communicating impact, programme design and funding.

Here he looks at what charities can learn from viral campaigns, particularly the recent Ice Bucket Challenge. 

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the Ice Bucket Challenge it seems like a good time for some reflection on the lessons learned. What can we learn from it and use for our own fundraising?

In review, it has clearly been a huge immediate fundraising success for all the charities concerned, both in the USA and UK. The ALS Association (ALSA) in the USA has been the most notable beneficiary raising over $100 million to date, with donations in one month at the peak of the challenge’s popularity being nearly 30 times greater than the same period in 2013. Similarly, the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK reports £6 million raised from it, a significant increase on its previous year’s income of £13 million, and Macmillan generating £3 million. This puts all these charities in a fantastic position to do more good work for their causes.

In becoming viral, the challenge proved once and for all the power of social media as a fundraising tool. The participation of many celebrities was clearly critical in inspiring people to take part. As of earlier this month the BBC reported that there were over 2.4 million ice bucket-related videos posted on Facebook and 28 million uploads, comments or ice bucket related posts. That’s not inclusive of Instagram or Twitter. recently released some findings on the value of a ‘share’ on Facebook about donating, which showed:

  • £1 in value for someone who has donated to charity
  • £5 in value for someone who has donated to a friend’s fundraising page
  • £12 in value when someone shares a text update about a fundraising event or challenge
  • £18 in value for sharing a video update about a fundraising event or challenge

Behind these sums is the fact that 21% of Facebook shares result in another donation.

So what does this mean for charities? To put it bluntly, that social media needs to be an integral part of your fundraising campaign. Traditionally, charities would have focused on having a large number of Facebook Likes in order to communicate with people who were interested in a cause. While this remains important, updates which Facebook Page owners share are only seen by 16% of those who Like the page. In contrast, according to Stanford study in 2013, the average Facebook user will have their posts see by 35% of their friends. The average Facebook user has 338 friends, so a post by an individual on your behalf will typically reach 118 people. A charity will therefore need to have nearly 750 Likes for Page to be seen by the same number of people as a post by an individual on your behalf.

In terms of fundraising specifically, the figures above show that it is vital to give donors the ability to share their donations or fundraising efforts for your cause via social media. Does your charity’s website or online donation platform have the ability for donors to do this? Do your fundraising materials for challenge events make it clear how powerful social media can be to support fundraising efforts, including how much more effective these are if they include videos?

At Makerble, one of the features we’re exploring which people are getting excited about is the ability to share progress updates on projects people are supporting via social media. That’s because Makerble’s model is to focus on the difference your money is making rather than the amount you give.

As the #icebucketchallenge has shown, social media is an incredibly powerful tool to support charity fundraising. The real power of social media is in embracing the ‘social’ part, and encouraging those who support your cause (whether via donations or just liking your page) to share content on your behalf, allowing you to reach even more potential donors.