AS a professional fundraiser in a previous life, we all strive for that ONE idea that will set our campaign up for success. You know you’ve hit gold when it’s all over the place, from celebrities to the news to Facebook, but what does it really mean to have a “viral” challenge?

The first “viral” campaign may be earlier than you imagine. In the US, many kids participate in Girl and Boy Scouts growing up. As a Girl Scout in the ’80s I went door-to-door selling cookies to friends and neighbours to raise funds for our local troop’s activities. But Girl Scout cookie sales started much earlier than that, back in 1917!

When I was a Girl Scout, it was a big deal to sell a couple of hundred boxes and win a “prize” – anything from a plastic water bottle to a T-shirt. But today it has skyrocketed into a huge fundraiser with kids coming up with inventive ways to hawk cookies on and offline to support their local communities and win prizes like trips to Disney World. One six-year-old went viral during this year’s cookie sales, selling 7,600 boxes after singing her own version of Childish Gambino’s Redbone.

Another popular fundraiser, walkathon, has been around since as early as 1953 when Puerto Rican actor Diplo walked 80 miles to raise money for a cancer organisation, raising US$85,000 in just four days. In middle school my church rallied the youth group to walk/run laps and get people to commit X amount per lap completed – anything from $0.10 to $10. Today it’s a bit more sophisticated, but many organisations use similar models.

Fundraising in the age of social media

Social media has changed the way donors give. It allows people across generations and communities to connect, and “challenge” campaigns are particularly entertaining as they give people a chance to share causes that are meaningful to them in a fun way.

World Wildlife Fund’s “emoji” campaign engaged younger audiences with small donations and awareness raising – leading to 202 million tweets at €0.10 / £0.10 donation per emoji. Viral hashtags, #BostonStrong and #NoMakeUpSelfie raised US$1million for survivors of the Boston marathon bombing and £8million for cancer research, respectively.

The Live Below the Line campaign raises awareness of extreme poverty by encouraging participants to feed themselves on less than AU$2 a day for two to five days OR host a dinner party that feeds guests on less than $2/a person. It is successful because of several reasons:

  1. It’s simple and authentic – while it might take some planning, it’s relatively easy to complete and informative
  2. It’s got great visuals – people love a good food pic
  3. It harnesses the power of social media with Instagram/Facebook/Twitter-worthy content – trending hashtags and click-worthy pics – what more can any social media maven ask for?
  4. It raises awareness while encouraging action – you act and others support, giving people an opportunity to become part of the story
  5. It’s a small ask – most gifts range from $5-25
  6. It encourages empathy rather than sympathy – you understand the challenges people, just like you, face on a daily basis and your selfless participation can even stir a physiological response to action in others
  7. It provides a sense of community – it connects participants to something larger than themselves online but also gives people real-world opportunities to connect as well
  8. It makes a personal statement – “people value non-verbal symbols that associate them with a larger movement or community.”

Going viral

Do you have a cause you are passionate about?

Like the #BostonStrong and #NoMakeUpSelfie campaigns, the viral #IceBucketChallenge that raised US$115million in just a few weeks was a grassroots project not started by the ALS organisation, but by supporters. It went viral thanks to ALS-sufferer Pete Frates.

Explaining that “ice water and ALS are a bad mix” he challenged a mix of friends and famous people to join the fun and dump ice water on themselves within 24 hours or donate to the cause. It quickly reached millions of people as well as the likes of David Beckham, Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and even then-President Obama fuelling the “cool factor” for others to participate.

Like these campaigns, it doesn’t have to be a complex idea – just fun and creative. I once hosted an improv comedy troupe where guests donated their would-be ticket price to an organisation supporting AIDS orphans in Zambia.

You can even tie it to something you love, like a bake-off, photo contest, cycling or running. Small Change founder, Sara Adhikari, is participating in the 2018 TCS World 10k in Bengaluru, an annual marathon for professional runners as well as a fundraising event that has raised 39crore for 250 NGOs since its inception. 

What will you do?  

20180509_143019Micah Branaman-Sharma is a freelance consultant for US-based nonprofits and international development agencies with more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations of every size, from grassroots to multinational. She is passionate about empowering people to help themselves, working to ensure human rights for all, and raising awareness of the plight of those outside the bubbles of our immediate communities.

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