Charity Jacking: Smart or Not?

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What Is Charity Jacking?

Fundraising goldmines like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the No Makeup Selfie to promote cancer awareness have really caught the attention of the non-profit world. Many non-profits have attempted to duplicate the success of these campaigns in what has been termed charity jacking. Charity jacking occurs when an idea is borrowed from one charity and altered to fit the purposes of another charity, in hopes that the outrageous success of the original campaign will carry over to the jacked concept.

Hits and Misses

Manju Kalanidhi, a 38-year-old journalist from Hyderabad, India, inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, created the Rice Bucket Challenge. She didn’t see the point of wasting water, so she altered the challenge to fit the needs of people in her area by offering simple instructions to put rice in a bucket and give it to someone in need. The familiar concept caught the attention of her intended audience and was met with success. The challenge received coverage from multiple media outlets and spread to other needy areas of the world, including parts of the Philippines.

An example of a hugely popular idea is the 2004 release of silicone bracelets to support Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer campaign. Numerous charities quickly adopted the simple, cost-effective fundraising idea. It’s hard to think of a large charity that didn’t have at least one colorful silicone bracelet as part of its fundraising repertoire. Perhaps the success of this campaign was partially due to its timing: “going viral” was a relatively new concept in the early 2000s, allowing charities to benefit from this exciting new internet phenomenon.

A well-meaning, but poorly-performing, campaign that also took its cue from the Ice Bucket Challenge was an attempt to raise awareness for suicide prevention by smashing a pie in one’s face. The campaign was dubbed the Doubtfire Face in honor of Robin Williams, the star of the film Mrs. Doubtfire, who took his own life in August of 2014. By the time the campaign began, the Ice Bucket Challenge was no longer a trending topic, and the Doubtfire Face version quickly disappeared from the public eye on social media. Only $5,405 of the $500,000 goal was raised.

Keep It Original

Riding the coattails of another non-profit’s success may bring you short-lived donation gains, but viral campaigns are inherently transitory. Internet consumers are easily fatigued, and this means a copycat of a viral campaign may be just as short-lived, if not shorter, than the original. If you’re not incredibly quick to pick up on a trend, your organization may not gain the spotlight it deserves and could even gain a reputation for unoriginality if you repeatedly borrow and alter others’ ideas.

British autism activist Faith Jegede said, “The chance for greatness, progress, and change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.” This could apply to anyone involved in creating a public image for your charity. Even though charity jacking may be successful in the short term, long term success depends on building emotional appeal for your organization and seeking creative ways to present your cause.

It’s important to keep focusing on authentic, creative, and meaningful ways to connect with your donors. Who knows, maybe your charity will have the next original viral campaign!

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