Two non-profits recently hit the funding jackpot.  Donations to the ALS Association topped $115 million last summer as the Ice Bucket Challenge made its incredible viral video splash around the world, a 4,000 percent increase from the $2.8 million it had raised during the same period the prior year.  The other big winner is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation which recently reaped a whopping $3.3 billion reward from a drug development investment it made years ago, a major boost to the $130 million typically raised annually by the organization.

In reaction to these windfalls, the organizations have had to withstand some additional scrutiny and questions over how they will spend the money and if these huge sums won’t deter future donations and be potentially harmful in the long run.  No doubt, most non-profits wouldn’t mind having to contend with those problems.

It’s no surprise that non-profits everywhere are trying to come up with the next Ice Bucket Challenge that will reap mega-millions and many healthcare non-profits are considering the potential benefits of investing in the pharmaceutical industry.   But waiting for lightening to strike is never a good idea for growing a non-profit’s visibility or its coffers.   Viral hits are almost always organic and unexpected.  And, there are far more failures than successes in drug development.  

Rather than hoping to strike gold, non-profits should consider these far more dependable strategies for reaching their organizational goals.


  • Establish and Be True to Your Mission and Values:  A non-profit’s mission and values need to be reflected in the daily work you do.  Defining the organization’s purpose and setting its moral compass are critical first steps.  But that’s just the start.  The way the organization is represented both on- and off-line, the visual manifestation and tone of your brand and the partnerships and campaigns you employ need to echo what the organization stands for at its core.  Clearly defining and living by those organizational principles will make choices clearer and your activities well understood, both internally and to the public.  Non-profits that stray from their mission and values are far more likely to make missteps that can badly bruise their brand.      


  • Leverage Your Stories and Empower Others to Tell Them:  Non-profits have amazing stories to tell about what they do and the communities they serve.  Bring those stories to life and make tangible the need for and results of your work.  And, most importantly, provide opportunities that allow your stakeholders to tell those stories for you since those are the most compelling and have the greatest impact and reach.  A case in point:  The Ice Bucket Challenge. 


  • Engage through Social Media but Don’t Try to be Everywhere:  Social media engagement is a must for raising awareness and driving donations.  Even those who donate off-line say that social media is their top source of information for the causes they support.[i]   But rather than trying to be everywhere in the social sphere, determine which social channels are used most widely by your key audiences and concentrate your efforts on just those few platforms.  That way, you can efficiently use resources and create smart, meaningful content and engagement.  It’s also critical to regularly review online metrics to understand what’s working and retool what’s not.

When a non-profit strikes gold it’s only natural that others wish to replicate that success.  But investing in approaches that will bring success in the long-term is more likely to get your organization where it wants to be. 

Janet-Schiller_presoJanet Schiller is Vice President of Healthcare/Advocacy Practice at Coyne PR