A few weeks ago I was in Malaysia when I became aware that people I was working with were dousing themselves in freezing water and giving money to an obscure charity somewhere else in the world. The notion that this was an isolated outbreak of madness was dispelled when I turned on the local television and saw the whole phenomena discussed live. I especially loved the incongruity of watching Anna Wintour on YouTube being doused while still wearing her trademark dark glasses.
This perfectly highlights the way that in the past few years highly successful fundraisers have changed the game in two completely contradictory ways, which here at the IFC has both been monitoring and encouraging.
In the first, fundraisers have seen wealthy people become fabulously rich and have pursued them through increasingly effective major donor fundraising campaigns, aided and abetted by Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and a host of other billionaires through their Giving Pledge www.givingpledge.org which is, by example, also putting pressure on mere multi-millionaires to give to charity.
The second way has been to reach out to millions of ordinary people through viral campaigns that take advantage of the new social media platforms to involve people around the world. It is in this category that selfies and other viral fundraising techniques belong. So what makes them work and why are they here to stay:
- Social media now links billions of people around the world and culturally we are becoming ever closer. What one set of young people do in one country can be seen and emulated by others immediately. This gives the basis for a culturally based viral infection to spread. Once on its way the virus can be picked up by the global media and multiplied many times a day.
- We live in a worldwide celebrity culture and once they are infected we all wish to join them in becoming contaminated, even if we may say the exact opposite.
- Our global media runs on conflict and highlight problems so all of us become sensitised to the need to end social problems of all kinds. Mostly this passes us by and we don’t go out of our way to give a donation, but once a virus takes off the cause it is attached to, or which attaches itself to the virus, gives the media the opportunity to raise it as an issue and demand an answer; or merely to question if the virus can really change anything, which in itself is enough to spread the virus.
- Looking briefly at another aspect of this change in the European fundraising model, CrowdFunding is raising very significant sums online and linking large numbers of people across continents.
- Lastly, giving by text messaging is becoming the norm for millions of people who find it easy, fun and immediate.
The secret ingredient in all these methods is an element of fun which was absent from the older rather more sedate and boring methods of fundraising. Indeed, what’s not to like?