Charities going viral

Charities going viral

How not-for-profit organisations have been utilising social media

Over the last month the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took over my social media news feed. I’ve seen more videos than I can count of friends, family, and celebrities dumping buckets of ice over their heads and challenging others to do the same – all in the name of ALS awareness and fundraising.

Despite whether or not you’re a fan of the campaign, it’s hard to deny its massive reach and impact. As of 24 September the ALSA had raised a whopping $114 million, an 800% increase in donations. Furthermore there has been organic celebrity involvement, a rise in conversation, and endless amounts of content produced and shared over multiple channels.

The challenge has been a hugely successful social marketing campaign, but the ALSA is not the first not-for-profit to successfully utilise social media.

Earlier this year the no-makeup selfie campaign for cancer awareness and research that began in the UK spread to Australia and went viral on social media. Participants were challenged by friends to post a selfie without make up on social media, donate an undisclosed amount to cancer research and then challenge their friends to do the same. The campaign was a great success, sweeping the world for a good cause, and making a real, tangible difference to cancer research.

Kim Marsh

Virgin Mobile Australia has recently partnered with OzHarvest to launch the #mealforameal initiative. For every food photo posted to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the #mealforameal hashtag, Virgin will deliver a real meal to someone in need. This initiative takes advantage of audience produced content – approximately 90 snaps with the hashtag #foodporn are uploaded every minute!


The latest fundraising challenge Kissed by a Pit has been launched by Dog Park Publishing. With the first celebrity Kevin Bacon posting his video kissing his Pit Bull and donating funds to Animal Haven NYC, I doubt it will be long before this campaign goes viral.

Kevin Bacon

So what can not-for-profit organisations learn from these successful campaigns? 

Make people care about your cause

With the abundance of social cause campaigns it’s often hard to make your organisations cause stand out from the crowd. So how do you make people care about your cause?

Appeal to people’s emotions

Donating is a personal act, people act from the heart, not the head. It’s important to disclose how your organisation uses donations, but your appeal needs to contain more than numbers and pie charts.

The top reasons people support social causes are:

  • They feel emotionally moved by someone’s story
  • They don’t want to feel powerless in the face of need
  • They want to feel as though they are making a difference in someone’s life

Use a personal invitation

Rather than an organisation asking a favour, try and make the request more personal. If someone I know asked me to give, I would be more inclined to help them. Both the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the no make-up selfie campaign encouraged people to personally invite their friends to participate in the campaign. 

Convert people from carers, into donators

Caring is only the first hurdle, the second is encouraging them to become donators.

Join existing conversations/engage with social media influencers 

The ALSA didn’t initiate the ice bucket challenge. Instead they recognised that the challenge was becoming a large part of online conversation and people began nominating their organisation – so they got on board and the rest is history.

Discovering what your audience is talking about and joining in the existing conversations allows you to access current and potential audiences on platforms they are already communicating and engaging in on a regular basis.

Historically you needed to be picked up by mainstream media to make a large impact, however these days key influencers (whether they’re celebrities or everyday persons with a large following) are media channels themselves. Influencers have large networks with a strong reach, and arguably a more engaged audience than many traditional media vehicles.

Utilising a call to action

Any campaign attempting to encourage behaviour change needs to have a call to action – one that requires little time and effort. It’s hard to inspire urgency if you’re asking for something complex. Urgency is motivating. By giving people 24 hours to participate the ALS challenge deterred people from putting it off and forgetting about it.

Using personal invitations is also beneficial here – it’s much harder to ignore a request from someone you know. Positive peer influence encourages action.

Encourage Simple Content Production 

Keep the barriers for participation low and your audience will be more likely to create and share their own content, giving your cause increased exposure which compacts over time.

Content should be short, digestible, and entertaining, it doesn’t have to include lengthy info on your cause as this is what your website is for. People are busy and have a short attention span. Grab their attention and focus first, and the rest can come later.

Photo: Kymberly Janisch

Each week a staff member puts pen to paper to write about an aspect of content communication that speaks to them, and hopefully, informs you. This is a space where our passion for writing, learning and sharing information comes to shine.

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