Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#823 splash

From 1966 until 2010, Labor Day was marked by the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.  It was a whopper too; airing for 20+ hours from Sunday night through Monday, it was as classic as it was annoying.  In the era of limited channels, to dedicate one of them to a fundraiser was revolutionary.  Later in syndication, over 160 channels carried the show.

The first telethon raised over $1 million -- remember, this is 1966 -- and its success allowed it to continue for the next four decades.  The format was the same; shots of local volunteers listening for the phone to ring, celebrities, testimonials and tug-at-your-heart stories about the great need for more research, and a big board to track the totals.  It fit the times and over many years raised nearly $2.5 billion for medical research.

You probably did not notice the telethon this past weekend.  It has shrunk to a mere two hours; Jerry has not been part of it since 2011, and it was only shown on one network.  In short, it is a format from another time trying to live on in today's digital world.

Contrast that with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has currently raised $94.3 million toward finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  Through two friends who wanted to support another friend with ALS and one email to 60,000 people in the ALS database, an international viral phenomenon was launched.  Currently 1.9 million new donors have contributed to this challenge since the end of July.

How is your organization operating?  Hanging on to the tried and true tradition like the telethon and trying to tinker with its format?  Or embracing an entirely new way of thinking about who your audience is and how to reach them?  A douse of cold water should bring you to your senses about which one is more effective.

-- beth triplett

MDA Show of Strength 2014, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MDA_Show_of_Strength
The Real Ice Bucket Challenge by Kathy Giusti, Time, September 8-15, 2014, p. 29

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