Expert Alert: Many lessons to be learned from the ice-bucket challenge, Rice University expert says


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Many lessons to be learned from the ice-bucket challenge, Rice University expert says

HOUSTON – (Aug. 25, 2014) – Former presidents, pop stars, politicians, actors and athletes are among the numerous public figures who have completed the viral ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge. More than $79 million has been raised for the ALS Association to support scientific research to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Photo credit: University

Angela Seaworth, director of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Rice University’s Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, said there are lessons in philanthropy that can be learned from observing this campaign. She is available to discuss her insights with the media.

“First, nonprofit organizations need to be ready to answer the question ‘How will you use the money?’ when they receive unexpected funding,” Seaworth said. “While it is not common for organizations to see their annual revenue double in a few weeks, as has been the case with the ALS Association, major gift opportunities can arise quickly. Does the organization have a strategy in place that can guide them when they experience unprecedented growth? I challenge organizations to ask if they would be prepared to manage an unexpected gift wisely.”

Second, Seaworth said it will be important to resist criticizing the ALS Association in the next round of publicity. “While I absolutely support accountability in the nonprofit sector, it seems that the discussion of philanthropic initiatives quickly sours, particularly in flash situations when a significant amount of money is raised,” she said. “After weeks of celebrating the generosity of individuals during a crisis, the coverage turns to questions of whether or not the organization handled the gifts appropriately or used the money as the pundits, who may not understand nuances of nonprofit management, feel they should have. Unfortunately, this secondary round of discussion tends to remain focused on the short-term and criticize strategic or long-term use of the funds. In this case, I urge the ALS Association board and leadership to earmark at least 10 percent of the windfall to support expanded marketing and professional fundraising initiatives over the next five years so the organization can sustain the interest in curing ALS and continue raising more money for research.”

Finally, the most fascinating lesson from the ice bucket challenge may be a renewed faith in the power of grassroots philanthropy, Seaworth said. “This challenge exemplifies philanthropy as ‘voluntary action for the public good,’ as defined by Robert Payton,” she said. “What is more voluntary than choosing to dump a bucket of cold water on one’s self, posting it on social media and challenging other individuals to learn about the disease and make a gift to support an organization? The challenge has been embraced across generations, ethnicity, gender and economic lines that, too frequently, hinder progress. Instead, individuals from all walks of life are choosing to act, and the giggles from watching a person get doused with water come as easily from watching a 6-year-old challenge her friends to learn about ALS to Bill Gates’ water-dumping design. The sheer silliness is connecting us, and it is a reminder that collective action can be powerful.”

Seaworth is the holder of the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive credential, the highest professional certification available to fundraisers.

To schedule an interview with Seaworth, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.


Follow the Glasscock School via Twitter @GlasscockSchool.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations on Twitter @RiceUNews.

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,920 undergraduates and 2,567 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6.3-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go here.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.