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Ice, Ice Baby: Lessons Learned from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Don't you love when things go better than expected? Maybe it's that iffy first date you go on with someone who turns out to be your soulmate. Or finding a great outfit for said date and the cashier tells you it's an extra 25% off. When things go better than planned, it's a great feeling. In the case of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, there was a fateful moment a few years ago. I wasn't there, but I imagine it looked a little something like this: 8 people sitting around a big boardroom, one person's standing up at a whiteboard writing down ideas. Human #1: "Guys, what if we write a piece about what ALS is and profile what it's like to live with the disease?" Human #2: "You know that won't raise the funds we need - no one's going to read that article and then immediately send it 3 of their closest friends." Human #3: "I have an idea, but it may be a little out there..." Human #4: "Let's hear it." Human #3: "What if we ask people to either dump a bucket of ice water on their heads or donate to us? Maybe toss in a little peer pressure by getting people to nominate their friends to do the same?" Human #1: "Wait, I'm confused. What does ice water have to do with ALS?" Human #3: "Well, nothing really..." Human #2: "So donating to us would be seen as 'the lesser evil'? Won't people want to make the video of them dumping the water and then no one will donate to us?" Human #3: "Well I'm hoping that the videos would spread awareness about ALS - a lot of people haven't heard of it or really taken the time to understand what it is. Maybe people will do both!" Human #4: "I mean, there's not a lot of risk or investment involved to get it going - let's give it a try and see what happens." The conversation may or may not have gone something like that, but the point is: I don't think they had a clue how this campaign would spread.

Here's how much money the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised: 

That's great - but this was 2 years ago. Good point. HOWEVER. This past Monday, the ALS Association announced that proceeds from the ice bucket challenge had potentially funded what was being reported as a breakthrough! A Guardian article stated,

"But the proof of the pudding was in the eating: the campaign raised more than $100m in a 30-day period, and was able to fully fund a number of research projects.One of these was Project MinE, a large data-driven initiative funded by the ALS Association through ice bucket challenge donations, as well as donations from the organization’s Georgia and New York chapters. The project’s researchers announced on Monday that they have identified a new gene associated with the disease, which experts say could lead to new treatment possibilities." Brian Frederick, the ALS Association's executive vice-president of communications and development, stated the importance of this discovery, as “it helps us understand what’s triggering this and can help us better find a treatment.” It sounds like there is still a long way to go in the fight against ALS, but this is definitely a great step forward! Cheers to social media for having a resoundingly positive impact on a terrible disease.

Lessons Learned There's a few important lessons that we can take-away from this campaign.

1. People like nominating other people to do stuff. Especially when famous people jump on the bandwagon. The Ice Bucket Challenge had 2.4 million tagged videos on Facebook alone. Celebrities that partook in this dousing include:

  1. Justin Bieber

  2. Bill Gates

  3. Mark Zuckerberg

  4. Niall Horan

  5. Tom Cruise

  6. Charlie Sheen

  7. David Beckham

  8. Selena Gomez

  9. Taylor Swift

  10. Miley Cyrus

  11. Justin Timberlake

  12. Jimmy Fallon

  13. Barack Obama

  14. Gwen Stefani The list truly goes on and on of celebrities who were quick to join in on this cause.

2. Haters Gonna Hate. At the time, this challenge faced a fair amount of criticism. Many people called it 'slactivism', saying that dumping a bucket of ice water on your head wouldn't do anything to help the people living with ALS. Time Magazine called the challenge "problematic in almost every way" and stated that "the challenge’s structure seems almost inherently offensive to those touched by ALS.” Time Magazine wasn't incorrect when they stated that some people just jumped on the opportunity to dump water on themselves/their friends, failing to even mention the charity or consider donating. The campaign wasn't perfect. But I think a comparison with the increase of revenue from 2013 to 2014 (year of the ice) demonstrates that the challenge did a lot of good. 2013   2014 23.5 million raised                                                   115 million raised You can't please everyone, so don't let a negative comment or two scare you away! Sometimes criticism is unfounded, other times it's actually a super helpful tidbit on how you can improve an idea. Learning to discern between the two, and being open to accepting constructive criticism in the first place, are both valuable skills.

3. Your events and campaigns don't need to directly correlate. This is what has stuck with me the most from this campaign. If you want to solve world hunger, you don't need to necessarily impose starvation on others (although 30 Hour Famine has done a great job with this tactic!) or sell food to raise money to buy food in other countries (again, This Bar Saves Lives is doing great with that strategy). Those are both effective tactics, but you could also throw a big dance party and donate the proceeds to a charity combatting world hunger, or host a super exclusive pop-up concert with a local celebrity in a cool location, or create a hashtag #AnyPoseGoes and ask people to do a yoga pose and donate $5 to Action Against Hunger. <---- Dibs on that last idea ;) Don't be afraid to get creative when considering how you can make a difference in the causes you're passionate about. We're always looking to help out local organizations and groups, whether it be by connecting you to others, partnering up to plan something awesome, or even just promoting your events and ideas! Send us a message or email at


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