You can plan all you want, spend too much to promote, write, re-write, and massage a script, cast the perfect face or voice for a campaign, shoot and re-shoot film and still end up with something like that stuff you recently scraped off your shoe.

I’m writing this as just another reminder to any of my current and former colleagues working in the non-profit sector with huge lists of top tier recognizable names as national sponsors, MILLIONS in marketing budgets, program partners willing to drop even more coin than they are already paying to be part of a ‘test’ program that if successful might become a “signature event”, and teams of people working day and night to come up with the next piano cat video – please realize one thing:

You don’t “make” viral. Viral happens. Or it doesn’t. You do not control it.

For those who don’t know, a signature event is one like Komen’s “Race for the Cure” in all its glorious pinkishness – when you see Pink, you think of one thing. National Multiple Sclerosis Society has Bike MS. Most charities have one or more events that fit the signature category.

I’m sure The Ice Bucket Challenge – a viral activity – will be that kind of event for ALS charities.

I have consulted with hundreds of charitable organizations – but never the ALS Association. However, I’m going to give them just one piece of totally free advice on the Ice Bucket Challenge that I think is smart and valuable – and here it is:

As much as possible, KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF!

Support it. Promote it. But don’t make a logo for it. Don’t bring it in-house because you want to control it. If you do, you will suffocate it. And don’t get it sponsored! If I hear “Rubbermaid, the official bucket of the Ice Bucket Challenge” I’m gonna be pissed!

The creativity of some participants is inspiring and if the ALS Association had to pay for it, they wouldn’t be able to afford it. Just sit back and be grateful for Chris Kennedy, Pat Quinn, Pete Frates and the thousands upon thousands of people who came after them who are bringing awareness and money to the ALS fight.

They will keep it alive.

The brilliance is in its simplicity. The Ice Bucket Challenge just happened and if you had locked your staff in a conference room for a month, you likely would not have come up with TIBC. (And if you did, it wouldn’t have the fire you’re seeing.)

It wasn’t even initially for ALS – it’s just something weird that morphed into what is now happening. And the Ice Bucket Challenge was working before celebs got involved. (I’m not a fan of buying celebrities for a cause – if they want to help, then help. If not, move along.) Also, these celebs were not ‘courted’ or wined and dined with money better spent on furthering the cause, they were called out by their friends.

I cannot count the number of of times I was part of fly-in meetings with 20 or more people attending, 2 or more nights in hotels, expensive dinners, delayed flights, and extended time away from family. (I know that last one is disappointing for those who PREFER to be away from home.) The purpose of the meetings were always to come up with the NEXT BIG THING – an attempt to create a movement.

Sure, we ended up with a new program or two that were expensive and required lots of hours of work added to the already over worked staff at the affiliate locations but a “movement” was never the result. The best scenario is to work to create an environment where a movement could happen.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is fun, goofy, powerful, and authentic. Most of the videos I’ve seen don’t even mention the charity or cause because – in an impressively brief period of time – it is already so well known that everyone assumes that you know what this thing is. No logos. No misty dream shots, or god-forsaken, manipulative, and poorly acted re-enactments.

Charities often try too hard and, unfortunately,  it’s not easy to break bad habits. Charities – especially some that I am intimately familiar with – need to change HOW they think and sometimes that requires a brain transplant.

However, I’m 99.9% sure there are going to be lots of meetings in the near future (if they haven’t already begun) for more than one charity to figure out NOT how to change they way they think, but to come up with their version of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Why? Because managers LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! meetings.

BTW: How many managers do you think worked on this? East Hills Mall in St. Joseph, Missouri in on the map with nearly a million views in day and a half. It’s bad, but it is sooooo good.