Are you waiting for the next Ice Bucket Challenge? It may not be something you can make happen – or see success from – according to a recent online debate reported on by Liz Henderson.

“Viral campaigns are like lottery tickets. Every so often someone hits the jackpot. But for every winner there are tonnes of losers.”

That was the verdict of Pareto Fundraising director, Sean Triner, in an online debate hosted by the Resource Alliance on 17 March at Google Hangout, timed to coincide with registrations opening for its free ‘Fundraising Online’ virtual fundraising conference to take place on May 13 to 14.

In mid-2014 the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, raising more than £100m for the ALS Association and other organisations around the world supporting people with motor neurone disease, and resulting in more than 2.4 million tagged videos circulating on Facebook. The No Make-up Selfie campaign raised £8m for Cancer Research UK in just one week.

A desire to capitalise on the same success has seen other charities attempt to start their own campaigns in the hope that they, too, go viral and raise large sums of money for their causes.

Triner said: “It’s hard to make them work and they are a distraction. Rather than following best practice, doing the hard work and targeting specific audiences, charities are wasting time trying to get the next big viral campaign. Yet for each one that is successful there are tonnes of failures. It’s not a good strategy to pursue.”

The debate was chaired by Howard Lake, editor of UK Fundraising. Its title was: “This house believes viral campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge and No Make-up Selfie are passé and have had their day.”

Triner argued for the motion in the one-hour debate. Against him was Kristy Marrins, content and community manager of JustGiving UK. Her view was that charity efforts to emulate successful viral campaigns can’t be written off as unsuccessful, even if they may not be seeing the same level of results.

“While some charities have been less successful than others, that doesn’t mean they have been unsuccessful. #smearforsmear was a viral campaign. It wasn’t about fundraising, it was about awareness, which it succeeded in raising. Jo’s Trust, the charity behind #smearforsmear received 15,000 mentions on Twitter with a reach of over one million – in just one week.”

She said that viral campaigns are not something charities can always make happen, but that they can be ready for them, if and when a campaign takes off. “Think about what you are going to do with those supporters. Can you turn them into lifelong supporters? Yes you can.”

View the full debate here:

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Liz Henderson is editor of Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine

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