One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2014

Breaking the Rules: How the Ice Bucket Challenge Hurts NonProfits

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Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426) As a strong advocate for using digital tools to engage potential advocates online, I probably should be more supportive of efforts like the Ice Bucket Challenge – the fundraising initiative that has gone viral. Many of my colleagues talk positively about it, and a few have even participated

However, like several of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers….I’m not enthusiastic about it. In fact, I think it’s rather harmful for charities and other non-profits.

“But Gordon,” You’re probably thinking to yourself. “Isn’t it great that funds are being raised to help cure a disease? Isn’t it great that we are also raising awareness about an issue via social media? And ultimately, who gets hurt?”

My answer is….non-profits. And here, in convenient bullet point form, are several reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge may be a great idea, but has some severe limitations:

  • Building Awareness is Good: Building a Base of Advocates is Better – As a nice, visually engaging stunt, dumping a bucket of water on yourself is a great ploy….but for any cause, you need more than just a nice video. Funding is good, but there is further advocacy work to be done on the legislative, family, and community levels. “Raising awareness” doesn’t do anything other than bring attention – and what people with ALS require is action. (I think it’s safe to say – a disease named after a major athlete has already “raised awareness” on some point). Many non-profits need more than just a momentary glance – they need people to advocate on their behalf (as well as volunteers to help complete needed tasks).
  • Research Doesn’t Improve When You Throw Money At It – In fact, research is a long, meticulous process of figuring out what works and what needs improvement. If there were a room of researchers waiting for money to simply begin, it makes sense. Many nonprofits need funding, but hoping for a magic lump sum is….well, it’s the equivalent of purchasing a lottery ticket. You may get lucky, but it only comes after a lot of work….and long-term investment.
  • Now Everyone Will Be Doing It – Already, there has been one case of potential “cause-jacking” of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Coming up with a great idea that turns into a movement is rare, but the temptation of “mission creep” – drifting away from a nonprofit’s mission to pursue potential resources – can be potentially damaging to organizational efforts and the morale of its staff.
  • Smart Content Strategy Always Trumps “Viral” – One of the things that smart nonprofits know is that they tailor their content – every post on Twitter, blogs, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media channel – to the strengths of that particular channel. There will always be room for smart, strategic engagement of potential advocates, but nonprofits can do better than something that seems based solely on peer pressure with little room for positive follow up. (Or in other words – how many people who took the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t donate).

For those of you who have causes you would like to promote – or even if you work for a nonprofit and are looking to get the word out – I have come up with my own “viral” challenge. I’m calling it….the Funny Cat Challenge.

Here’s how it works: If you have a reaction to this post, please feel free to provide your reaction – positive, negative, neutral, however you feel – but include a funny cat video – simply search funny cat videos on YouTube and you have a variety to choose from. Here’s a great example:


Then,  distribute your post via social media using the #funnycatchallenge hashtag….and please be sure to make a donation to the charity of your choice. (No pressure either way).

Some of you will be saying to yourself, “But Gordon – all you’re really doing is driving hits to your website! You’re not really doing anything to help nonprofits”

My point exactly….although I would argue that posting funny cat videos is always a worthwhile endeavor.

So what do you think – do you think that the Ice Bucket Challenge can hurt nonprofits, or is it just another clever idea? Please leave comments below (and please remain civil – we do moderate this blog’s comments). In addition, you are always welcome to visit and join us on Facebook, or contact us directly – information can be found on our About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

August 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Chicago Social Change News Updates

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humana-foundation-cnowThere are many great activities and efforts driving Chicago social change and social benefit – so many that it can be difficult to keep track. This week, there’s an update on a funding effort featured while ago, as well as an upcoming event and a provocative, must-read article.

Back in May, we wrote about the Humana Communities Benefit program, which would provide a $350,000 grant to a local non-profit. On Monday, August 11, community members will have a chance to vote for one of three finalists – PCC Community Wellness Center, Family Alliance, and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Those interested in participating are encouraged to visit between Monday, August 11th and Friday, August 22nd to cast their vote. Finalists will judged on a variety of factors later this month, and community votes will acount for 20 percent of the organization’s total score.

On August 21st, the Illinois Task Force on Social Entrepreneurship, Enterprise, and Innovation will hold the world premiere of Alicia Douglas’ Detroit Is a Phoenix, focusing on collaborative efforts by social enterprises, impact investors, and ILTaskforce
other philanthropic organizations to rebuild Detroit. Ms. Douglas will also speak about her efforts for both the Michigan Economic Task Force and the Detroit Social Enterprise Task Force. (Full Disclosure: I currently act as outreach volunteer for the Task Force). For more information and to RSVP, please visit their Eventbrite page.

Finally, one the most read – and heavily discussed – articles has been C.N. Naemekas’
The Unexotic Underclass. which focuses on entrepreneurs who focus on “anti-problems” rather than on “big problems.” Naemekas focuses on three populations
who tend to be glossed over: veterans, single mothers, and middle-aged unemployed/ underemployed individuals. It’s one of the more provocative articles of the past few months, and pulls no punches in condemning some aspects of tech culture:

For, in the 21st century, a prosperous American business is a soaring 2-storied cake: 1 management layer at top thick with perks, golden parachutes, stock options, and a total disregard for those beneath them; 1 layer below of increasingly foreign workers…Above all of this, the frosting on the cake, the nec plus ultra of evolutionary corporate accomplishment: the Director of Social Media. This is the 20-year old whose role it is to “leverage social media to deliver a seamless authentic experience across multiple digital stream s to strategic partners and communities.” In other words, this person gets paid six figures to send out tweets. But again, no one that we know.

It’s a great, thought-provoking article that has much to say for the Chicago tech scene (and for the Chicago non-profit scene as well, since nonprofits are taking a more professional/”lean startup” approach). It’s an article worth reading…and worth discussing.

This week, we’ve featured three opportunities for the Chicago community to drive social good. But we’re always open to hearing about new opportunities as well – if you have any suggestions (or wish to discuss the “unexotic underclass”), please feel free to leave comments below. In addition, you are always welcome to visit and join us on Facebook, or contact us directly – information can be found on our (it’s small, but we’re looking to grow), and About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm