Ice Bucket Social Media Trend Causes 1,000% Spike in ALS Donations

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Ice bucket challenge

August 12; Salon

It’s simple: A friend posts a video, explaining they are raising awareness for ALS and then dumps a bucket full of cold ice on their head. During the video, the individual performing the ice bucket challenge must then call out three friends and then those mentioned friends have 24 hours to take on their challenge and then continue to spread the challenge to three of their friends.

Often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a serious condition that affects over 12,000 people – causing muscle spasms, loss in muscle mass, difficulty speaking and breathing, and paralysis. So is this social media craze too disconnected from the meaning or cause of treating ALS? There are certainly critics of the trend who believe “a lot of the participants are probably spending more money on bagged ice than on ALS research,” but apparently the goofy stunt has caught on like wildfire and has increased donations to the ALS Association by 1,000%, raising a total of $4 million since July 29. During the same time period last year, the association had raised $1.1 million.

Celebrities have even joined in on the challenge; Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart, Mark Zuckerberg, and even politicians such as Chris Christie and Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh have taken on the task of dumping ice on your head for charity. Ethel Kennedy even challenged President Barack Obama to participate, but the president has opted to donate directly to charity instead.

Mashable and the Boston Globe have both stated the nonprofit ALS Association credits the idea to Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player diagnosed with ALS in 2012. But Slate states the idea originated from a dare that was circulating among a group of pro athletes before Frates took on the challenge, and those who declined had to donate $100 to charity of the challenger’s choice.

Although this charity challenge’s message may have gotten muddled through social media channels and wasn’t a genius marketing campaign organized by the ALS Association, there are lessons to take away from this trend for giving and social media campaigns:

  • The influence of friend networks: Taking the focus away from promoting the organization itself and directing social media campaigns to people connections could bring a new energy to efforts. People of all ages are now using social media to connect with their family and friends, utilizing these connections can be powerful.
  • Make giving fun: Although being a donor is prestige in itself, people are inundated with giving to charities constantly everywhere – from browsing the Internet to checking out at the grocery store register. Adding a fun new twist to giving campaigns could attract a whole new audience.
  • Be timely: It’s summer, and for a vast majority of Americans it is very hot. If the ice bucket challenge launched in December, would as many people have participated? Probably not. Linking donor campaigns to what current events, holidays, or seasons are happening during the time of year can prove to be very effective.
  • Video media is powerful: From Vine to Instagram to the media powerhouse Youtube, video and image sharing is dominating the social media scene. Quickly creating a video through mobile technology and syncing it to the web can be done with a few simple clicks, so take advantage of this. Encouraging people to share their experiences through video can make supporters feel more involved as content creators.
  • Make giving interactive: Being personally called out by loved ones, family and co-workers to step up to a challenge for the sake of charity on a public social network for all online friends to see is a hard offer to turn down. Explore ways to transfer the call-to-action to your participants.

–Aine Creedon

  • Randy Bryan ,

    My wife was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, she is still fighting on her will to live is amazing
    Please continue to pray that they can find a cure for this awful disease, I challenge everybody to do the ice bucket !

  • Phil


    Chiming in on the #icebucketchallenge. So, let me start by saying I’m biased towards the recent ALS social media awareness and the criticism around it because I have a family member who suffers from this disease. That being said I have seen enough commentary on it that has made me think… Is it stupid? Yes! Will it cure ALS by the social campaign’s conclusion? Probably not. BUT is it bringing ALS into the social conscious, a disease of which most people are unaware of? ABSOLUTLY! I’ve read articles on both sides of this campaign (PRO: CON: and I am on the side of do something, anything, weather it is dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, donating, or telling one person about ALS because guess what without this campaign a lot fewer people would be talking about it, even if they talking critically. For all the negative posts and articles out there… hooray for those too because they still mention ALS. The positive and negative side of this conversation still has the benefit of introducing ALS further into the social conscious, agreed?

    In advertising, “effective frequency” is the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made, approximately 9 times. So the more we can mention this disease the better even if it is tied to a fraternity associated act. As someone who runs a non-profit, I know that not every person I talk to will donate or drastically change the state of the organization but does that stop me from engaging, never! The more people that know the better because everyone will talk about it and eventually they will talk to someone, who talks to someone, who makes a contribution. It is about building a community of advocates who give more than money but their voices. To me that is what this campaign is really about, giving your voice because that is a gift! If that is all you can or want to can give then who is anyone else to criticize that your gift isn’t financial. Bigger picture: why be critical of something that isn’t hurting anyone, especially you? Would this campaign have gotten so many celebrities involved who in fact donated had it not gone viral with the help of everybody? So while not every person donated, their voices combined raised awareness among those that could.

    In the Vice article they call it “narcissism masked as altruism” thus positioning all narcissism as negative. Do we criticize the donor that get’s their name on the wing of a hospital that ends up saving lives? Of course we don’t but let’s also not pretend that donor doesn’t like having their name in big letters. It makes them feel good to give and be recognized thus feeding the healthy narcissism we all have. If people can help and get a sense of satisfaction internally or externally from supporting, who are we to criticize that motivation if it still helps people? In the Non Profit Quarterly article they talk about “making giving fun”, extremely important for the social media world we live in now. Make giving fun and people will keep giving… even if it is only their voice. Is the goal to learn and support research to cure ALS, of course, but would mundane posts and research articles just asking people to go learn about ALS inspire people to investigate as much as a funny video? At the end of the day it is still advertising and it is better to have this cause on the tip of your tongue than not. I know for me, I’m more likely to check out Etrade than Scott trade because of those hilarious talking babies!

    In closing, if you don’t want to pour a bucket of ice water on your head, then don’t, but that is a choice between you and a bucket of ice water. Whether you do or don’t #icebucketchallenge I encourage you to evaluate where you put your energy and your voice because both are a contribution that can move us all forward.

    ~ Phil