How donors create movements



I’m sure you’ve probably received a fundraising letter or solicitation at some point that said something like, “anything you can give today will help.”  If you’re like most people, “anything you can give today” is likely $20, $50, or maybe even $100. 

To most of us, that’s a large amount of money to hand to someone else.  But, to a non-profit that needs thousands of dollars to finance projects, pay salaries, and pay the costs of operating, it may seem like a tiny drop in a very big bucket.  A bucket that’s constantly leaking.

As a donor myself, I wonder how my $20 gift will actually help an organization or cause that I care about.  Especially when $20 doesn’t seem to begin to pay for the costs of running a non-profit. 

But, it does.  In fact, my small donation not only funds a cause -- it can actually create an entire movement.

By now, almost everyone has heard of the “ ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”  Thanks to social media, numerous hilarious videos of people getting drenched with ice water, and the participation of celebrities, star athletes, and Congressmen, what began as a small fundraising challenge in 2012 has become a global phenomenon.

In just four short years, a handful of young people soliciting small donations made dumping ice water on each other viral -- over $100 million has been raised for the ALS Association. 

This may come as a surprise when you consider the statistics:

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (or ALS) is a disease currently estimated to affect as many as 30,000 Americans.  One in every ten thousand people you might meet has been diagnosed with ALS.  Prior to the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, it was likely that many people didn’t know much about the disease at all -- this can make drumming up donations incredibly difficult.

Cut to July 2016.  Due to the huge boost in research made possible by the Ice Bucket Challenge, ALS researchers announced the discovery of the NEK1 gene, a major contributor to the development of ALS.  With this discovery, doctors now have a target to develop life-saving therapies.

With an estimated 40-50% of Ice Bucket donations coming from small one-time donors, the success of this fundraiser is remarkable, especially considering how small the donor base might have been originally.

But a few passionate individuals making small donations, sharing their participation on social media, and nominating friends and family to do the same, created a movement of global proportions.

Together, individual donors contributed over $300 billion last year to charitable causes.  To put that into perspective, Bill and Melinda Gates, the largest single donors last year, donated $1.5 billion in 2014. 

Does my $20 really make a difference?  Absolutely.  Just by virtue of making a contribution, a donor is not only providing badly needed funding, but helping to build what might be a little known cause into a much larger movement.  And together, millions of donors have more power than any single large grant or donor.