Changemaker Interactive

Suzanne Smith, founder of Changemaker Interactive and author of Social TrendSpotter, a must-read blog on the latest trends in the social sector, answers your most frequently asked questions.

The summer of 2014 will be remembered as the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has now raised more than $70 million in less than a month for the ALS Association. While there is debate on where it originated and whether or not it was a gimmick, there is no question that it is a great example of how the sharing economy, one of our predicted trends for 2013-14, has further evolved individual fundraising into a peer-to-peer model. People passed the “challenge” along to others, and it wasn’t just millennials or Gen Zers.

Within a 24-hour period, I saw challenges by my city councilmember; my 8-year-old nephew, Dylan; and Bill Gates. It united us together this summer under one cause – the cause of making fools of ourselves for the collective good.

And, there is no question that it was good marketing. In our training on storytelling, we urge social sector organizations to “make their ideas sticky.” This is a phrase borrowed from our friends, Dan and Chip Heath, in their classic book, Made to Stick. They developed the SUCCESs Model, which we encourage all our nonprofit friends to keep handy as they develop, improve and launch their own marketing pushes. We thought it would be fun to showcase the Ice Bucket Challenge and show why it was destined to be such a success (or SUCCESs):

  • SIMPLE: People are inundated by many messages, so yours has to be simple to ensure that it sticks. What could be simpler than someone dumping ice water over his or her head? They also made it easy to communicate by using social media as their tool. It was simple to share and distribute to all your followers.
  • UNEXPECTED: People love surprises and the expressions after being doused in ice water were priceless. We loved seeing it and sharing it with our network. It just made us want more. When developing your messages, think about how they can be simple, but also add a twist to create the unexpected.
  • CONCRETE: Messages have to be direct and concrete. The challenge was – either do the challenge or give money – within 24 hours.
  • CREDIBLE: The Ice Bucket Challenge also got a push from celebrities doing it – from Bill Gates to George W. Bush. That led to everyone doing it. Messages can benefit from credible individuals – celebrities, experts or the media – endorsing it.
  • EMOTIONAL: Most charities use the emotions of sadness or happiness to motivate awareness and giving, but I encourage people to think “outside the emotional box.” The Ice Bucket Challenge used surprise as their main emotional driver, but also subtly used our innate competitive drive to stimulate people to contribute.
  • STORIES: Research shows that our mind responds powerfully to stories. We need to leverage the stories of our cause – how our clients change their lives and how our volunteers and donors make a difference. The Ice Bucket Challenge created a funny story line, which starred our favorite people and was grounded by a good cause. How could we not pay attention?


The Ice Bucket Challenge, intentionally or not, used this formula and was destined to be SUCCESsful. It helped ALS Association gain 1.3 million new donors. Please share ways in which your nonprofit has garnered attention with us below.

Does your nonprofit need a shot of adrenaline? Take it to the next level with our Nonprofit Storytelling course.