Have you dumped an ice cold bucket of water on your head yet then uploaded a video of it to your social media account? If so, you were (hopefully) joining the thousands of others who have taken part in one of the latest fundraisers to go viral online, the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” The success of the viral campaign has been staggering: as of August 27th, 2014, the ALS Association – which participants of the challenge have overwhelmingly supported – says that it has earned 94.3 million dollars thanks to the viral campaign.
Although the Ice Bucket Challenge has arguably been one of the largest – and most original – viral fundraising campaigns to hit the internet in recent years, it’s not the first campaign to enjoy staggering success after making it big on social media. In the past couple of years, some fundraisers have made millions of dollars after making the rounds through social networking websites. It’s kind of incredible to see how some charities have majorly benefitted from spreading like wildfire across the internet, especially considering that many campaigns that go viral actually start out with a simple idea by an organization or individual with few or no startup costs.
We’ve found nine fundraisers and awareness campaigns that have gone viral in recent years that have resulted in increased awareness and, of course, raising millions of dollars for various causes.
The Ice Bucket Challenge
Sometime in late 2013, a challenge emerged on social media called the “Cold Water Challenge.” Participants were asked to either donate money to a charity for cancer or jump into a body of cold water. The challenge evolved into participants dumping cold water directly over their heads. This bizarre ritual received increasing media attention, and finally personalities on a program on the Golf Channel televised a live, on-air Ice Bucket Challenge. In July, high-profile television anchor Matt Lauer did the challenge, which inspired pro golfer Chris Kennedy and his cousin to also take up the challenge. The two knew someone who had ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and in their video, focused the challenge on ALS research by encouraging others to take on the challenge and donate to the cause. The idea of donating to the ALS Association stuck, and celebrities ranging from Justin Bieber to LeBron James to former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were nominated for (and completed) the task, creating videos and sharing them on social media as well as voicing their support of the ALS Association. By mid-August, celebrities, politicians, athletes and everyday participants had jumped into (or been nominated for) the viral craze. By the end of August, the ALS Association website reported that close to $100 million dollars had been donated.
Movember, a portmanteau from “moustache” and “November” occurs annually in the month of November. In the event, participants are encouraged to grow moustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues and to raise money to assist charities that are associated with male’s cancers and other male health issues. Throughout the month, participants are encouraged to spread the word about having regular health checkups and adopting a healthier lifestyle. As far as viral campaigns go, Movember has been around for a long time. It was first dreamt up in the early 2000s in Australia by a group of young men in Adelaide, South Australia. The idea became popular internationally, spreading to South Africa and Europe and by 2006 it was recognized in North America. The event is run by the Movember Foundation in Australia and New Zealand, and worldwide it is managed by various campaigns that benefit national cancer charity foundations. In 2010, participants raised over $.5 million dollars, and in 2012, $95 million was raised.
San Francisco Batkid
Practically an entire city took part in a viral campaign when, in the spring of 2014, the San Francisco Greater Bay Area chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation organized “Batkid Day.” The idea was to help Miles Scott, a cancer survivor, who told the Foundation that he wanted to be Batkid. The San Francisco chapter sent out request by email asking for volunteers for the event. They only expected to get a few hundred volunteers, but aided by social media, the request spread virally and by the night before the event over 12,000 volunteers pledged to help out. The day began when Scott was asked to be a sidekick to an actor dressed as Batman. He embarked upon a series of tasks, complete with police escorts, to rescue captives, stop a bank robbery, and a chase through San Francisco’s AT&T park. At the end of the day, he met thousands of crowds and the mayor of the city where he was shown a Tweet from President Obama thanking him, along with a FBI “raid jacket” and police department cap. The day was filmed professionally and posted on YouTube, where it has received hundreds of thousands of views.
No Makeup Selfie
In March 2014, a new trend spread through social media, especially on image-sharing platform Instagram. Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and JLo posted selfies of themselves wearing no makeup in order to help raise awareness in a campaign called No Make-Up Selfie for Cancer Awareness. The trend, which spread rapidly throughout the U.S. and Britain, raised millions of dollars in both countries for the cause.
Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation
It’s a story of a terrible day at work turned into a wildly successful viral campaign. “Making the Bus Monitor Cry” was a series of videos filmed in June 2012 that featured a middle school bus monitor who was being bullied by four 7th graders in New York state. The film of the bus monitor, Karen Klein, a 68 year old partially-deaf woman, was made by the students who were taunting her and uploaded onto Facebook and later YouTube. In the video, students call the monitor names and taunt her about her appearance, age and ultimately make her cry. It got millions of views in a few days. After the videos received national attention, Southwest Airlines paid for a trip for the monitor and her friends to take a trip to Disneyland. Someone who saw the video, who had also been bullied as a child, started an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of $5,000 in order to pay for Klein to take a vacation. After the campaign was posted to reddit, it raised over $703,000. Klein used $100,000 of the earnings to establish the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, and retired from her job as bus monitor.
Jack Draws Anything
In 2011, Jack Henderson, a talented young artist (he was 6 at the time), decided he wanted to raise money for the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, where his youngest brother regularly had to stay. He decided to raise money by drawing “anything” in exchange for a donation to the hospital’s Friends Foundation, aiming to raise 100 pounds. However, his idea and website went viral, his fundraising total reached 64,000 pounds. In 231 days that he had the campaign, he drew 536 pictures with pens, crayons and pencils and a book was published of his work.
Claire Squires Fund
A 30 year old marathon runner named Claire Squires collapsed and died in the final stretch of a marathon that took place in London to raise money for a charity called Samaritans. The tragic loss of the young runner inspired outpouring of support after her death. After the public learned of her story, which was largely shared online, 80,000 individuals and raised over 1 million pounds, which was put into a special fund that the Samaritans developed in her name
In March 2012, a short film was released by Invisible Children, Inc., to promote their “Stop Kony” movement. The film, which shows dramatic and emotional images of children in Africa, aimed to raise awareness about the African leader, a militia leader and International Criminal Court fugitive – with the goal of having him arrested by the end of 2012. The Invisible Children organization received millions of views and a million likes on the video within days as the video and its corresponding poster, a distinctive image of a black, red and blue donkey and an elephant, spread virally on social media. TIME magazine even called it the most viral video ever. The video was endorsed by many celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Bill Gates, and also spread by Oprah Winfrey. The film also sparked controversy, with NGO workers, politicians and other officials, journalists and academics questioning its merits. A follow-up video was produced, but it did not go viral like the first film did. The organization’s founder had a public mental breakdown, and interest in the campaign gradually waned, but not before the organization made millions in revenue thanks to the video.
Bra Color on Facebook
In early 2010, women began cryptically updating their Facebook statuses with only the color of the bra that they were wearing. The origin of the meme is unclear, but it seems that the idea began as a game to confuse the men of Facebook. Information about the game was shared between female Facebook users via private messages in their Facebook inboxes. As the game quickly became viral, it began to encourage participants to spread cancer awareness through their participation, and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure saw a spike in traffic on their website. The statuses got increasing coverage in the press, and eventually male trolls began to participate in the meme. The campaign also spread to Twitter. Like many other viral campaigns, it was short lived: the campaign enjoyed the greatest popularity in January of 2010 and has since gone into relative obscurity.