October 1, 2014 | Category: Blog | Author:

What Can We Learn From the Ice Bucket Challenge? Make It Personal

Following is a guest post from Elizabeth Connerat, a public relations professional in New York. Her professional background ranges from the arts and nonprofit worlds to financial services. She is a graduate of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, where she studied art and politics.

Here, she offers her take on what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge suggests about social-change storytelling.

Elizabeth Connerat

This summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was the coolest hot trend not only in the nonprofit world, but among celebrities and just about anyone with a camera and internet connection.

Prior to the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, the New York Times reported that only half of Americans even knew about ALS. This was not a disease that people were invested in. That is to say, very few people felt its impact and so were not necessarily impelled to make donations or spread the word about finding a cure. But somehow, this grassroots campaign went viral and now just about any person you stop on the street can tell you a little something about ALS.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was successful for many reasons, but there is one aspect that I find particularly interesting. As a member of the millennial generation, I am the first to acknowledge that my peers and I often approach news and events with the question, “how does this affect me personally?” To gain the time and attention of younger generations, it is important to not only tell a compelling story, but to make that story feel personal — and that’s exactly what the Challenge did.

Using the Ice Bucket Challenge as a framework, below are a three quick tips on how to make your organization’s story more personal and in the process, gain the support of younger generations.

Find ways to insert your audience into the story

One of the biggest criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it is too embracing of slacktivism; that people aren’t actually doing anything to support the cause and are just making photos and videos about themselves. This isn’t entirely untrue. Facebook posts and Instagram photos about the challenge often feel self-congratulatory: “Look at what did to give back. Look at how I dumped water on my head. Everyone look at me doing something good.”

But like it or not, that is a large part of what made this campaign so successful. By making the narrative about the person completing the challenge, people were excited to do videos. In fact, I remember hearing a colleague complain that no one had nominated her yet — reminiscent of the last kid to be picked for kickball in gym class.

If you can find a way to make your audience a part of the story (not necessarily the sole focal point as was often the case with the Ice Bucket Challenge), your cause is more likely to become one that people remember and want to engage with.

Offer ways to get involved besides donating

As a millennial living in New York City, I can absolutely tell you that the thought of finding event $10 a month to donate can feel daunting at times. Many young people today are facing student debt and underemployment along with the typical financial stresses of learning how to budget and survive in the real world. But young people today are also engaged and eager to support causes they believe in! The Ice Bucket Challenge was great for us because it gave us a way to show support and get involved without having to open our wallets. Being told we could do something meaningful just by taking a cold shower was refreshing! (For many reasons…)

Show that their support matters

So now there are ways to get involved besides writing a check. Great! But it is discouraging to think that the only people who can make any real impact are those controlling the money. How does posting a video or photo actually make a difference? Each video was a part of keeping the story going. Each photo was a part of a movement. Even if you weren’t donating $100, you were doing something to help raise awareness. Your small act being a part of something bigger, and being a part of its continued success, was a huge component of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Every person who participated was a part of the chain that made it so unique.

Find a way to channel this spirit into your own campaigns. Think of how each person getting involved matters to your larger goal. When people feel that their voice is important, they will be happy to shout from the rooftops.