by Janine Vanderburg, CEO, JVA Consulting

As someone who hates being cold and wet, I knew the moment that I first saw the #icebucketchallenge, I was not going to participate. Water in the form of warm, sunny beach?–Yes! Water in the form of cold snow in Colorado’s mountains?—No!

But as a fundraiser who is passionate about the science of fundraising, I’ve been obsessed since I saw the first challenge earlier this summer (a non-ALS challenge from former colleague Julia Alvarez to our business development manager Myra Hagan). 

What are some key take-aways that apply to organizations of all sizes?

1. Knowingly or not, the challenge is based on research that shows physical challenges work because of the “martyrdom effect.“1

Takeaway: Beyond the traditional races, think about what your organization can do to provide physical challenges as part of your fundraising campaigns.

2. Haters will always hate. Or, said more nicely :), there is always someone out there in the world to criticize anything. Critiques clump into the following categories:

Takeaway: Ignore the critics. FUNdraising should be FUN. And do have a plan to steward donors and use your money wisely (which of course you do already, right?)

3. It democratizes giving. In a day when even grassroots organizations are putting on galas with $125 tickets that are way out of the financial reach of their grassroots base, this challenge is easy and inexpensive. Get a bucket of ice water, pour it over your head, post on social media, challenge your friends to do the same.

Takeway: Don’t ignore the bottom of the donor pyramid in your search for donors. What fun, easy, inexpensive ways do you have for potential donors to contribute to your cause?

4. It leverages others’ networks to connect more people to the cause. The challenge doesn’t just state: Dump ice on your head and give money to us. It adds: Challenge three of your friends to do the same. It’s kind of like a house party, but easier and on steroids in terms of impact.

Takeway: Embed into every ask (whether in person, via mail, email or social media): Who else do you know that might be interested in this cause?

5. It includes all of the elements that make a social media pitch go viral. We’ve said this before, and one more time: Integrating social media into your fundraising strategies isn’t optional anymore, and it’s not a matter of posting a notice of your upcoming events on Facebook.

Takeaway: Learn what’s effective on social media—here’s a start with JVA’s lessons learned from the Denver Business Journal Social Madness contest—and embed it into your fundraising plan and all of your campaigns.

Our challenge to you: What will YOU do next? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll include it in an upcoming issue of JVA411.


1. Olivola, C.Y. (2011). When noble means hinder noble ends: The benefits and costs of a preference for martyrdom in altruism. In Oppenheimer, D.M., & Olivola, C.Y. (Eds.). (2011). The science of giving: Experimental approaches to the study of charity. New York: Taylor & Francis.