Blog -> What the Ice Bucket Challenge can Teach Nonprofit Boards

What the Ice Bucket Challenge can Teach Nonprofit Boards

Remember a few years ago when it seems like everyone was doing the ALS ice bucket challenge online? The success of this viral online campaign has been really fun to watch from a nonprofit consultant standpoint, blowing previous years’ donation records of the ALS Association out of the water. We felt compelled to join in on the fun by taking the ice bucket challenge as well as making a donation.    

Betsy ice bucket from Lori Aston on Vimeo.

It will be interesting to see how other nonprofits try to find something that measures up, and how much money the next viral campaign will raise. No doubt as nonprofit boards come back to the table they’ll be asking themselves what their organization can do to get even a fraction of the spotlight the ALS Association has managed.

As it turns out, having ice-cold water dumped over your head and calling out your friends to do the same is compelling:  we keep watching the videos, taking the challenges and asking our friends to do the same.

Why does this work so well?

The most important reason is one that is very simple: this is a campaign that calls people to participate by name. When someone asks you publicly to do something, you do it, right? It’s easier to jump on the bandwagon if your friends are too. If your friend nominates you to take the challenge, you’re probably going to (unless you have a really, really good reason not to). People are generally good sports, and when they are named in a public forum to do something, it is more likely to happen.

How does that translate into nonprofit board operations?


If nonprofit boards can take any lesson away from the ALS ice bucket challenge, it should be this: hold each other accountable as a board, as representatives of your cause and your nonprofit, as good stewards of the funds contributed to your organization and stay together in your campaign. If one board member is bringing awareness to the organization is a creative way, the rest of the board and staff need to join in. Accountability by and to everyone will translate into a better nonprofit organization.

As a board, here are three areas in which members can hold each other accountable:

  • Board committees — Establish a governance structure of board committees with a reporting structure. Committees to consider: executive, finance, nominations, volunteer, special events and communications. Include at least one board member on each committee (except for the executive committee) and one board member should be the committee chair. Membership of each committee should be made up of staff, key volunteers and other board members. The committee chair should keep lines of communication open between him or herself and the chair of the board of directors and the executive director of the organization.
  • Calendars — Set up a master calendar for your social media and blog content, grant writing deadlines and events. Keep track of everything and assign one person to manage these calendars and keep the team on track. If someone isn’t going to make a deadline as promised, he or she owes it to him or herself and the rest of the board and staff to let everyone know and ask for help if needed.
  • Strategic plans — This will help keep a nonprofit accountable to itself and the goals set forth at the time the current strategic plan was created. It’s a road map and will keep your nonprofit moving in the right direction.

If a precedent is established at your nonprofit where everyone is accountable, the likelihood that the important things will slip through the cracks will decrease. Know people by name and deliver to them what you promise. Then your organization will be a more balanced, effective, well-oiled machine and a successful one.

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