The ALS Challenge Is Just Beginning| How to Thank and Convert +2 Million New Donors | npENGAGE

The ALS #IceBucketChallenge Is Just Beginning| How to Thank and Convert +2 Million New Donors

By on Aug 29, 2014


As I reflect on the wild and surprising success of the ALS ice bucket challenge, I can’t help but think of my days at the American Red Cross.

During my 4 years at both the local and national level, I worked on several disaster operations— from the house fire in the middle of the night to some of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the US. Many of those disasters required the raising of millions in order to respond, and much of that money often came from brand new donors. And after each relief effort,we were faced with putting plans in place to thank, recognize and engage our new donors.

What does disaster fundraising have to do with ALS?

Well, I’ve heard it said countless times that we only ever see this large, widespread magnitude of support after disasters, and there’s truth to that.

But the speed and breadth of support for the ice bucket challenge rivals any disaster response I’ve seen.

And that means that the same level of intensity is required for a swift, sincere and thoughtful follow up.From the $10 to the million dollar donor, each must be treated with the appropriate level of appreciation.

The ALS Association is now faced with a massive challenge:

They must now develop plans and strategies to connect with and convert more than 2 million new donors into annual supporters.Taking a play from my disaster fundraising handbook (aka boots on the ground experience and common sense), here’s the plan I would suggest to ALS:

  1. Set up a multi-message welcome series targeting new donors
  2. Thank again with a video from a recipient
  3. Send an introduction to ALS HQ
  4. Send an introduction from the local chapter
  5. Provide detail of how the money will be used
  6. Send a thank you video from the organization’s leadership
  7. Offer ways to get involved, remembering always to include a CTA
  8. Create a separate email campaign targeting the existing donors that gave during the challenge
  9. Once the campaign is done, put the new donors into the regular flow of monthly eCommunications (at a minimum a monthly enews)
  10. For gifts of significance send handwritten thank you notes. You can engage the local offices in this project.
  11. For major gifts, set up face to face visits
  12. Develop a 6 month and 12 month report on what’s been done/accomplished. Infographics are a great tactic here; they are quick, scannable and easy to digest compared to a multi-page narrative. Plus, they are an efficient and responsible use of the donor’s dollar
  13. Post periodic updates and testimonials on the website, social media platforms and print (don’t create something new, use things like newsletters)
  14. Send out a November eCard right before Thanksgiving that let’s donors know just how thankful the organization is for their support
  15. Run 3 fundraising campaigns using a multi-message tactic for End of Year, Sustained giving and the anniversary of the challenge. (Speaking of—Want to know how to build and design a great fundraising appeal? Check out our newest eBook!)
  16. Run an appreciation campaign on social media at the 6 month mark that celebrates the success of the campaign
  17. On the anniversary of the challenge, implement an appreciation campaign using email, social media, website, video and thank-a-thons
  18. Where appropriate, write hand written notes or letters to major donors and core supporters that continue to support the organization, ice bucket challenge or no
  19. For corporate donors or companies that did employee ice bucket challenges, work with the local offices to present companies with a token of appreciation and thanks.

Many of ALS’s new donors won’t give again.

But with the right stewardship, engagement and solicitation strategy, a certain number of supporters will.

It’s just going to require a thoughtful, multi-channel cultivation strategy—a smart mix of offline and online communications, as well as segmentation and special thank yous for major donors. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but the success and impact of each fundraising campaign requires an equal level of follow-up attention and investment.

At the Red Cross we received these beautifully designed posters from headquarters that were done specifically to thank donors. We decided to contact companies that gave major gifts or ran giving campaigns and offer to come out and say thank you. In just 2 weeks this tactic helped us secure 24 meetings. And over the course of 17 months of targeted cultivation, our new corporate donors gave $350,000 for local programs and services.

The 7 Lessons learned while running disaster fundraising nurture campaigns:

  • Be passionate with every thank you
  • Create mission moments for donors
  • Be thoughtful in your plan, this is a long term effort
  • Be realistic with goals and expectations (not every donor will give again)
  • Write it down – the plan, timeline, actions
  • Track results
  • Celebrate milestones

Now is the time to put on our modern fundraising hats and utilize the knowledge, experience, and creativity that’s needed to change the world. I wish the best for ALS on this new and exciting journey.

Photo Cred


Danielle Johnson-Vermenton, CFRE, is the Director, Nonprofit Strategy at PMX Agency and is often called to present at events like Digital Leap, AFP Planet Philanthropy and BBCON.  Prior to PMX Agency, Danielle worked in nonprofit technology at Blackbaud for 7 years and for 13 years with boots on the ground in roles such as director of individual giving at Boys & Girls Clubs, leadership giving manager at the Red Cross and director of development at HUGS for Kids. Danielle’s passion is inspiring nonprofits to have a plan for today with a grand vision for tomorrow. You can follow Danielle @DJVermenton and on Facebook at

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