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Social Media’s Influence on Charitable Donations

In light of the ALS Association's successful Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, we discuss how charitable organizations attract new donors.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has made its way through various forms of social media.

Photo: Anthony Quintano (flickr)

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has made its way through various forms of social media.

ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, stops motor neurons that send messages to muscles.

“The disease is probably one of the most cruel things I’ve ever seen,” says Cindy Wise, Executive Director of the ALS Association’s Indiana chapter. “The muscle dies out and the person loses their ability to use their arms and legs, they lose their ability to speak, they lose their ability swallow and eventually to breathe.”

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was started by the family and friends of a 29-year-old man who is battling disease. The challenge went viral and has now raised more than $100 million for the ALS Association.

The ice bucket challenge has taken social media by storm, but, overall, social media accounts for a small portion of charitable money raised, says Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Less than five percent of the more than $300 billion raised last year came through social media.

So how are organizations reaching donors?

“Most people do it the old fashion way, through letters, calls, contacting their friends in the workplace or campus or so on,” Lenkowsky says.

Julio Alonso, Executive Director of the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, says these are the techniques used by smaller, local organizations that don’t have the same reach as national organizations.

“There are a lot of really great causes out there that are competing for the interest and support of donors, whether those are individuals or institutions,” Alonso says. “So it’s sometimes a challenge to get your message across and encourage the support that you need.”

Alonso says many organizations that provide essential needs such as food or shelter face donor fatigue, when people begin to lose interest in supporting an ongoing problem. But, he says, the advantage is that most people understand it as a basic human need and are willing to support it.

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