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Ice Bucket Success for ALS Nonprofit

The challenge’s success shows what can happen when a simple idea meshes with the power of social media.

By Bisk
Ice Bucket Success for ALS Nonprofit

On TV talk shows and online videos, people all over the country dumped buckets of ice water over their heads during August in what mushroomed into a fundraising phenomenon. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge is quite simple. After being "challenged," participants have two choices. They can donate $100 to charity or take a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads within 24 hours. Many people do both. 

Videos are uploaded to social media websites and typically include nominations of several other people to take the challenge. Along the way the ALS Association became the main beneficiary of the media and online frenzy. 

In less than a month, what began as a simple idea to raise money for charities exploded on social media with over 1.2 million video shares on Facebook and over 4 million related tweets on Twitter from July 29 through the middle of August. 

Through Aug. 29, 2014, the challenge generated $100 million in donations to the ALS Association, the organization said on its website. This is compared to about $2.7 million in donations from July 29 to August 27 in 2013, the nonprofit said. 

Though the avalanche of donations slowed during the fall, by Dec. 25, 2014, the challenge generated $115 million in the United States and $220 million worldwide.

It is unlikely any nonprofit organization could intentionally create a fundraising effort to match the challenge. 

Writing for Forbes, Rick Smith said the Ice Bucket Challenge contains three key components that can propel a concept to such a captivating level. 

It is selfless, and by watching it repeated endlessly on social media and news accounts, people feel compelled to take action and are more likely to do it themselves, said Smith, author of  “The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers” and “The Leap”. 

Knowing people are watching you take part increases your willingness to make a donation, he said. 

Second, it quickly became a big idea, one in which everyone seemed to be taking part. Big ideas get noticed. 

And, it was simple -- ice, water and a bucket. Simple ideas spread rapidly and are easy to turn into an action, Smith said. 

When it started, the challenge was not linked to ALS. Originally, according to an article on TIME website, those taking part could donate to a charity of their choice. Even when the challenge garnered national exposure as NBC's Matt Lauer was soaked on the “TODAY” show on July 15, the anchor’s donation went to Hospice of Palm Beach County, the program’s website said. 

The first connection with ALS came in another YouTube posting the same day by Sarasota, Fla., golfer Chris Kennedy, according to the TIME article. 

But the challenge became inextricably entwined with ALS when Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player who suffers from the disease, was filmed taking the challenge to the tune of Vanilla Ice's 1989 hit, "Ice Ice Baby”. The video was posted on Facebook on July 31 and the challenge exploded, forever linked to ALS -- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 

The sudden flood of donations and tsunami of attention brought unprecedented awareness to the ALS Association that in early September had to issue a release to debunk a viral article that questioned how much of the nonprofit’s spending went to research and also to post its high ratings from watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.

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