Summer has finally ended, and with it, the Summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge draws wetly to a close. When the Ice Bucket Challenge splashed across our news feeds in mid-August this year, no one knew that it would turn out to be the most successful social media charity drive ever. But as the seasons slide toward winter, the cool appeal of the Ice Bucket Challenge becomes a little less enticing and real analysis becomes possible.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a viral social phenomenon that involves people taking videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. At the end of the video, they nominate a number of their friends (typically three) to continue the challenge. Here, the nomination is the key: it determines the rate of spread and also provides a bit of social pressure (we’ll get to this later).

We’re going to use the Ice Bucket Challenge to talk about social media users’ general donation habits, and how social media can be used to spread awareness of social causes, collect donations, and have fun at the same time.

Social Media: A Place for Causes to Find Supporters


Non-profit organizations have implicitly understood the value of social media for spreading awareness of their causes. Indeed, some research indicates that social media is now the number one way that people hear about social causes, topping TV and word of mouth by a significant margin. The same study found that a large number of social media users also made donations to charity, and were more likely to donate money than volunteer their time.

Social media’s viral sharing model makes it easy for you to see the issues that are important to your friends, and to let them know what’s important to you. This ease of spreading issue awareness leads right into the next piece of the puzzle.

All of Your Friends Are Doing It

What made the Ice Bucket Challenge so successful was not its subject. Though ALS is a very real disease, what mattered was your friends sharing awareness of it. Peer pressure, as it turns out, is a great way to get people to donate to causes they wouldn’t otherwise consider donating to. The fact that the challenge was also direction challenged (“I nominate X!”) is the purest form of peer pressure.

Indeed, the whole thing sometimes seems like an elaborate guilt trip. But if it’s for a good cause, who’s to say if that’s wrong?

A Tool for Good

In the age of Myspace, no one imagined that social networks could be a force for good. But far from their value for marketing and communications, social networks also seem to be an extremely potent fundraising and awareness tool for nonprofits and other social causes. The Ice Bucket Challenge was merely the first wildly successful social media fundraising effort. What will the next one be?