Money & Business

Would You Throw a Bucket of Ice Water Over Your Head For a Good Cause?

By / Aug 14, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

That’s the question being asked of people around the country as part of a viral social media campaign started to help raise money for ALS. But is this type of campaign an effective fundraiser?

Heard of the “ice bucket challenge?”

This money means a lot to our research program. It also means a lot in the chapters to the day-to-day care of those living with ALS.

I hadn’t until I was tagged on Facebook recently by one of my cousins who challenged me to throw a bucket of ice water over my head to support ALS. It’s part of a grassroots social media campaign started by former Massachusetts college baseball player Pete Frates who has lived with ALS since 2012, according to the ALS Association.

The catchy campaign’s gone viral over the last few months or so, with everyone from Ethel Kennedy to Martha Stewart (albeit at a salon right before getting her hair done) accepting the challenge, which is to film yourself  throwing a bucket of ice water over your head and post the video to social media within 24 hours or donate money to an ALS charity of your choice.

The celebrity traction the challenge has picked up has, no doubt, helped boost its success, which so far is evident by a large boost in donations to the ALS Association.

In an interview with a Boston radio station last week, the association’s president and CEO, Barbara Newhouse, reported the challenge helped raise more than $168,000 in one week this month—a significant bump from the $14,000 the association raised over the same time period last year.

“The ALS Association just couldn’t be happier with the visibility that this is bringing to our disease, ALS, and the ALS movement,” Newhouse said. “This money means a lot to our research program. It also means a lot in the chapters to the day-to-day care of those living with ALS.”

The challenge is not without its detractors, though. A recent article in Slate pointed out that similar cold-water challenges predate this particular iteration, and it argued that the #icebucketchallenge, for some, may be more for show than it is about donating to charity.

Watch some of the videos of celebrities dumping water over their heads and “you’ll see the stunt was really just about getting their friends to film themselves doing something dumb for no reason,” Will Oremus wrote. “The charity part was an afterthought.”

Even if the challenge is not 100 percent unique or is serving as a semi-publicity stunt, it’s been successful in raising money for more research on the neurodegenerative disease that affects an estimated 30,000 Americans at any given time, according to the ALS Association. And it’s certainly getting people’s attention. Although I missed the 24-hour window to complete the actual ice bucket part of the challenge, I donated to a cause I may otherwise not have had my cousin not “challenged” me.

What are your thoughts on viral social fundraising campaigns? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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