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Is ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ for Charity More Than an Empty Gesture?

August 19, 2014

via YouTube

Pouring ice water over your head (and then posting a video of the stunt to social media, of course) has become philanthropy’s feel-good hit of the summer, garnering as many as 1,887 tweets per minute.

As reports, people challenge each other to either douse themselves with cold water or donate $100 to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Apparently it works: Those who opt for the cold but don't write a check have helped spur more than $4 million in donations from new and existing donors.

But the surge of donations from the “Ice Bucket Challenge” doesn't end there. The ALS Association alone has raised $15.6 million in donations for the between July 29 and Aug. 18, compared with $1.8 million during the same period last year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball star, is afflicted with the fatal disease. Frates helped conceive the idea of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a summer equivalent of the “polar bear plunges” that raise money and attention for ALS during the winter. "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon is one of many celebrities who have participated in the events.

Some dismiss this season’s challenge as showing off in place of real involvement that might alleviate the suffering of those with the disease — “narcissism masked as altruism,” to quote Arielle Pardes of

In terms of the attention that it draws to the participant, showboating under a torrent of ice water may not be any different than competing for auction items at big-ticket charity galas, writes. The site reports that young people participating in the ALS drive are leading to more participation, awareness, involvement and donations.

Fundraising experts say that the challenge has “the perfect storm of elements,” the Journal notes, making it difficult for other charities to replicate. — Greg Beaubien


John Senall says:

As a former development communications director for a large cancer center, I have studied and attempted social media fundraising hit and miss since it began. I think the Ice Bucket Challenge was successful for what it was and has raised the ante. We will now watch duplicates of this all over America using other hooks, and those will benefit those small and medium sized charities and create feel good moments of a smaller scale and money raised. All good stuff. That will, however, eventually make this hook style boring, but that is how this works. Something new then comes along after that. Could ALS have done it better? Yes. There was no integration as far as I could see of relationship fundraising software and personal pages to make giving the donations easier and more personal. Icers and Icees would have easily set up in a couple minutes their page, sent via social media along with the challenge video and updates, and supporters would click and instantly donate. They lost a lot of potential donors for that reason. It could have raised even more money. I’m certain ALS will do that next time. Also, the ALS website has no tools to make giving and asking easy for Ice Bucket fans. Imagery to post on your Facebook page and Twitter, yes. But not integrated portals, etc. My opinion based on experience is that social media fundraising will typically succeed in these ways–gimmicky but fun, short-lived, and usually not able to be grown much after the first big bang. However, if an organization has a thorough, professional fundraising program with many layers, different strategies for each layer, including the tried and true standards of direct mail, annual fund, major gift prospecting and endowment giving programs, social media fundraising can play an important role. Don’t look for it to be a panacea or to replace other methods. See it as what it is, another layer, and a newer way to get one-time gifts, access to new donors (some who can be cultivated) and to generate enthusiasm and awareness of a cause.

Aug. 29, 2014

Brian says:

The attempts to replicate something that was spontaneous and viral by other firms will come off poorly. Everyone will see that they are trying to copycat and it will be seen as contrived. And the term "raise awareness" is so overused that it needs to be banned.

Sept. 3, 2014

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