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​Is Viral Altruism Sustainable?

The Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 was a juggernaut that many nonprofits watched with envy. In just eight weeks, the ALS Association secured $220 million, thirteen times the amount raised by the organization in the entire year before.

lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells
in the brain and the spinal cord in a progressive way. It is also known as Lou
Gehrig’s disease. Celebrities and everyday citizens flocked to Facebook to
share their challenges and to talk about how fun it was to dump buckets of ice
water over their heads. ALS became the fifth most popular Google search that
year. But what was the long-term impact?

University of
Cambridge researcher Dr. Sander van der Linden has been studying this challenge
and other viral campaigns to see what nonprofits can learn.

One important
result that was noted in his article in Nature Human Behaviour,
“The nature of viral
altruism and how to make it stick, was that very few pledges were
renewed in the year that followed. There was still a 25% increase overall from
2013, but efforts to repeat the Ice Bucket Challenge only reached 1% of the
2014 levels. (One positive impact, however, was that average donor age dropped
from 50 to 35 which is potentially valuable long-term.) It was also noteworthy that
in all the videos shared about the challenge, only 25% mentioned ALS and only
20% were accompanied by donations.

This inability to
maintain viral success is not unusual. When Facebook hosted an organ donor
registration, 60% of all registrations occurred in the first two days.

Van der Linden
believes that there are four criteria for creating viral success that he calls
SMART. This concept is defined as using Social Network and a Moral
Imperative that leads to an Affective Reaction and Transforms
to action from clicking and sharing.

incentives, such as competitions or network pressure, can actually undermine people’s
intrinsic motivation to do good by eroding moral sentiment,” says van der
Linden. “Motivation to participate can get sourced from a desire to ‘win’ a
challenge or appear virtuous rather than caring about the cause itself.”

To read more about the study results and SMART, head over to Science Daily.

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