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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Lori L. Jacobwith stops by for a postmortem of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Full Transcript:

Steven Shattuck: Hey there, thanks for tuning into this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. I’m Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang, joining you, as always. Special guest today is Lori Jacobwith. Lori is a master storyteller. She’s a fundraising culture-changer. She’s one of my favorite people, and she’s our first returned guest to Bloomerang TV. So Lori, congratulations.

Lori Jacobwith: Hey, thanks. That’s kind of a nice title. I like the First Returned Guest.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah, well it speaks to how awesome we think you are, and awesome you really are. And we were talking just the other day about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Obviously, a lot of people are talking about this. It seems like the dust has kind of settled, it feels like. Would you agree with that?

Lori Jacobwith: Yeah, the fundraising has certainly slowed down. They’re at 113 million and counting a little bit of change. The boom of it, of course, was in August and September when there’s usually no fundraising going on, or if there is, it’s golf tournaments and crazy things like that. So I think we’re waning, but certainly 113 million dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah, so 113, and I think the year before they did, what, 3 million the whole year?

Lori Jacobwith: Well, in that same timeframe.

Steven Shattuck: Okay. So that’s a pretty big windfall. And you mentioned that it happened kind of in that late summer. What other things attributed to this? It seems like it was a perfect storm of a lot of different things happened maybe in the news cycle and then just the content itself. What happened here? This is crazy.

Lori Jacobwith: It is crazy, and probably not replicable to this same degree, so we should just tell everyone that right up front. If you’re wanting to do an Ice Bucket Challenge, there’s some things that happened that they couldn’t plan on. First of all, it wasn’t started by them. It was started by a couple of guys out East who wanted to give some visibility to the fact that ALS had touched their lives, and they challenged some of their friends.

The cool thing was, I like to call people who have a lot of contacts “sneezers.” They contacted some folks who were “sneezers” in their community. And it just sort of mushroomed. There were easy things about it. A hundred dollars or a bucket of ice. And most people did both.

Steven Shattuck: Right.

Lori Jacobwith: And people like Bill Gates, if you saw his video, did much more than that. He produced a whole video, he did big chunks of change, and as did some other folks did hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Steven Shattuck: So there’s a couple of details that I think are really important, because it seems like those things get glossed over. One, it wasn’t the ALS who created it, right?

Lori Jacobwith: Right.

Steven Shattuck: It just kind of happened on its own; it was just a guy who was passionate about the cause. And two, and this is one that I really haven’t heard much about. It started out as $100 or the ice bucket. But as it kind of gained steam, it seems like it just became, you pour the bucket on your head and then you donate. So do you have a sense of what happened there, or of how it kind of got co-opted and changed? And is that a normal thing to happen in a peer-to-peer campaign?

Lori Jacobwith: Well, I’d like to say that it’s a normal thing to happen. One of things that it was is it was really fun, and it was really social. So, my 78-year-old mom got challenged. She gave money instead of dumping the bucket of ice on her head. And my 10-year-old niece got challenged. And then CEOs in our community.

The thing about it was: sneezers, social, easy and fun. So, if you take that and sort of scale it, don’t just make your golf tournament a so-so day. Have it be, who’s going to be doing the little video at the beginning or the end that says, “I’m here to golf, but you could go putt in your back yard, and give $10 to this cause today.”

Steven Shattuck: Right.

Lori Jacobwith: It’s just a way of making sure that we’re as social as possible, and I think one of the lessons to learn is: be careful what you wish for. Because now donor retention is at the top of their mind like no other time ever. I mean, can you imagine more than three or 400,000 new donors?

Steven Shattuck: Right, so what do they have to do? Right? It seems like the spotlight is really on them for maybe, like, a 2015 fiscal year, or however they record it. I mean, spending the money wisely, I think, is a big one. But also retaining these donors. How can ALS hope to retain half, you know, a third of the donors? Is that the goal they should shoot for? What can they do here?

Lori Jacobwith: Well, the goal will be to retain, of course, as many as possible. As you and I know, donor retention is sort of in the toilet, if you will. It’s at its lowest in seven years, so retaining 30, 40, 50 percent would be huge for their bottom line. But what they have to do is make sure there’s communication.

And I will really give them a lot of credit. The national office has made a great effort in communicating, almost daily, in the month of August, so that, as this was unfolding and people were going crazy, they were saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do with the money. No, here’s what we do with research dollars. We do more than research.”

But now the challenge is to do that all the time. How do you do that and not ask for money, and not ask for money, and have people stay as connected? The chances of a first-time donor giving again increase much higher when a couple of things happen. One, when somebody makes a thank-you call. Now, I don’t think they’ll have the capacity to call three or 400,000 donors.

So, what if somebody, you know, gets on their little video camera, and says, “In lieu of a phone call, this is going out to every single one of you. I am the chair of the board, and I so appreciate. And here’s three family members who want to say ‘thank you’ to giving to ALS.”

Simple things like that interspersed with the facts about how they’re using the money. That’s going to be key. And then next summer, how do they make this fun, and how do they make people remember how much fun they had supporting this cause?

Steven Shattuck: You know, since this was a viral campaign, there’s lots of viral things that happen during the year. And it seems like a year later we don’t really remember them, but when they happened they were huge.

Do you think people are going to care about this a year later if they donated? Do you think that people are really going to hold their feet to the fire on how the money was spent, and how they communicated back to them? Or, are most donors going to think, “Hey, this was just a fun thing. I gave my five or ten bucks.” You know, whatever. What do you think the actual public opinion is going to be this time next year?

Lori Jacobwith: Well, we can only guess. Because we don’t know. Some of the folks that I’ve talked to, and some of the now, after-the-fact sort of videos and public faces have some out and said longingly, “this is the best news my family’s ever had.” You know, “we cannot believe, and we are so grateful for this support.”

So, will the average donor care? I would say chances are not huge, that they are going to be wondering with their calculator, you know, exactly what happened. Will those families who are affected by ALS watch and see? You bet. And so, now the challenge will be to make sure . . . this is a really unique position to be in. You’ve got a lot of visibility and a lot of support that will likely drop immediately. And what if it doesn’t?

I was on the local public radio station here, and the man who was interviewing me said, “It’s never going to happen again.” I said, “You know, it might. There’s millions of dollars that have been raised for all kinds of viral things. So, this can be replicated in a different way next summer. And maybe it won’t be $113 million, but what if it was $75 million?” I’d be pleased, and I’d be proud of their work to focus on donor retention, because that’s what it’s going to take.

Steven Shattuck: Now, and maybe this will be the last question, because you’ve shared a lot of good ideas and thoughts on this. I feel good about it, and you just said you feel good about it. It seems like there’s some people in the sector and maybe outside the sector who . . . I don’t know, a little bit of backlash towards it. Maybe they thought other causes were more deserving or, you know, is this really good for fundraising overall? Was this a good thing overall? I think, netwise, it was a positive. What do you think?

Lori Jacobwith: I think it’s a good thing. I think a rising tide floats all boats in fundraising. This gave an opportunity for other health-related charities to say, “We may have more people affected, but look at what happened when some really passionate people got involved.” Also, giving recognition to a disease that’s horrible and debilitating.

That’s a really big net effect, as well as just plain having people have a good time giving. That’s some of what’s missing, I think, especially as we come across now Q4 giving. There’s this moment of give, give, give, give, watch for our appeal. Having fun with charitable requests, even in the sea of all kinds of diseases and disasters, there’s a way to make this truly what fundraising is, and that is fulfilling the aspirations of our donors.

Steven Shattuck: And that should be the takeaway it seems like. Make it fun for your folks.

Lori Jacobwith: Yeah, fun and memorable.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah.

Lori Jacobwith: Who’s not going to remember getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head?

Steven Shattuck: Absolutely, I don’t remember dumping it on Jay Love’s head. That was pretty fun for me.

Lori Jacobwith: There you go.

Steven Shattuck: Well Lori, this was awesome. Hey, what’s going on with you these days? I know you just launched a new website. Where can people learn more about you?

Lori Jacobwith: I did, thanks for asking. You know, I am these days, so come join me there. We’ve got webinars as well. We’ve got a blog that I write regularly, and I love connecting with you guys, so thanks for being the great resource that you are to nonprofits in the country.

Steven Shattuck: Sure, we have fun with it. And thanks for sharing all your wisdom with us. Definitely check her out. Awesome content. Lori, thanks for being here, and thanks for everyone else for watching this week. We will catch you next week with an all-new interview with someone super smart like Lori here on Bloomerang TV. So we will catch you then.

Lori Jacobwith: Too kind. Thanks, Steven.

Steven Shattuck: Bye now.

Lori Jacobwith: Bye, bye. 

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.