The Cheats Guide to Going Viral

Going viral has never been easier and should be part of every fundraiser’s tool-kit. What could be more fun than an excuse to dowse someone in cold water, see celebrities with no-make-up and er, whatever the one before that was? Our attention spans are now so short we can simply highjack the latest viral fundraising campaign and rake in the millions and no one will remember what it was originally about – ready?

Okay, text ‘ice’ or ‘mice’ or ‘whatever’ to 1234 and my organisation’s bank account will look rosy. Or better still my own bank account, and this is something you should be really careful of, but which is hard to detect and harder to stop, especially when someone just dumped a bucket of cold water over your head.

To set up text giving go to a service provider such as or then select a code which is up to 6 characters long and ask your supporters to send a txt of your code ‘ice’ etc. to the provider’s phone number. Justgiving is free and allows a simple gift of up to £10 from the supporters monthly phone bill or the funds already available on the phone; but instaGiv allows monthly gifts and for you to keep in touch with the donors which is invaluable.

If you think it is implausible to capture a viral campaign tell me what was no-make-up selfie about before it was about Cancer Research UK?

So you want a simple fundraising meme that will go round the world and cause people to take up a challenge, necknominate (oops that’s probably the autocorrect playing up again), I mean nominate two others, all of whom will give your cause money no matter how obscure it is?

Simples – if you haven’t got the nerve to redirect someone else’s campaign, you need a pack of celebrities or one Stephen Fry to kick it off by doing something inherently silly and self-deprecating (though let’s be clear it isn’t really – it’s everyone-a-hero time). It’s calledgamification if you went to Harvard Business School, or you’ve been gamed if you went to Wormwood Scrubs.

It mustn’t take long, be simple and sharable on social media. It should involve a photo or a video or I’m tempted to say a cat, but they are inherently not altruistic and mess things up – scrub the cat. So here are a few examples to get you thinking:

  1. Ask everyone to sing happy birthday to one of your beneficiaries who is in dire straits, or about to expire, or to your whole organisation. Think how happy they would – ‘Karaoke with a kindness’. Video and nomination obvs.
  2. Dump a bucket full of mice, cats or spiders over someone but probably not all three together – gently. Now’s time for a new bucket filler…
  3. Try blindfold selfies but make it relevant to your cause – no peeking or you’ll be caught on camera.

Preparation is the key to success because it has to move very fast and the initial few days, even the first few minutes’ escalation, like the big bang, makes all the difference to the final scale of the fundraising. So make sure all your celebrities, staff, supporters, etc. do it on the same day and nominate people they think will keep the ball rolling. Work your press contacts immediately, and if you don’t have any, wait to launch the appeal until you have taken a good few out to lunch.

Obviously use all forms of social media and encourage others to do so. These things don’t happen on their own, and though we all know we should do this, we so often launch fundraising initiatives and just hope social media will pick it up by itself; but social media doesn’t work like the media and pick anything up, it works like the word ‘social’ and is spread by human communication, so it has to be worth communicating to your friends and family.

I was in Malaysia when the ice bucket challenge went viral and was astonished how it penetrated the lives of those with whom I was working. ‘Went viral’ really means it touched the whole world just as far as it was possible the world could be touched, but I also noticed a common theme in reporting on the challenge, which was that journalists and commentators had become so used to using conflict as the basis for their reporting that the ALS society was challenged, with often obviously spurious complaints, in nearly every report. One television programme was devoted to arguing that it had not actually raised any awareness of ALS, an argument that logically disproved itself by being made on TV.

So, the whole world is waiting and there will inevitably be another viral fundraising campaign – will it be yours?

John Baguley
International Fundraising Consultancy