Lessons From ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

als challenge

As someone who’s made many efforts over the years to raise both awareness and money for social causes and issues (i.e. St. Jude Children’s HospitalWomen in Prison, the Mothers of HaitiRoom to Grow and others), I have been fascinated by the extreme success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At first it was kind of amusing to see the videos pop up by various friends in my Facebook feed and I didn’t see what was coming even then, when I had no idea the idea would take off to this extent. But over the last week, as celebrity videos started to appear, including the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Stewart, Benedict Cumberbatch (whose clip I show above in honor of his display of the phone number to donate to ALS), and more and more of my own friends started to post about the cause with declarations of their own monetary donations, my interest peaked. People weren’t only making the videos; they were donating money!

In all my years using social media, I have never seen so much good come out of a simple idea. As of yesterday, The ALS Association publicly announced it has received $70.2 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 24). These donations have come from existing donors and 1.3 million new donors to The Association. That is a lot of money! The ALS Association’s mission includes providing care services to assist people with ALS and their families through a network of chapters working in communities across the nation and a global research program focused on the discovery of treatments and eventually a cure for the disease. In addition, The Association’s public policy efforts empower people to advance public policies in our nation’s Capital that respond to the needs of people with ALS.

Along with the videos have come stories of people afflicted with ALS, like the one by  a man named Anthony Carbajal. His video (please watch it from beginning to end) begins humorously and takes a serious turn, when we learn that not only is he afflicted with the illness at age 26, but he also cares for his mother who has ALS and cannot walk or eat without assistance. As we watch him take care of her, he tells us that we need to keep this discussion alive so pharmaceutical companies and others will continue to be pushed to find a cure for this fatal disease. “This is the first successful advocacy [ALS has] ever really… had and I’m so, so, so grateful,” he said. “You have no idea how every single challenge makes me feel, lifts my spirits, lifts every single ALS patient’s spirits. You’re really, truly making a difference.”

Seriously. Imagine having ALS and feeling all alone in this world, until now. The amount of support and hope coming in from this simple Bucket Challenge is amazing.

The question is what went right with this campaign? What did the organizers do SO well that even with deniers cracking down on its success, new videos and donations are popping up daily?

For one thing, it’s the feel good campaign of the summer, particularly in light of what’s happening in the Middle East and in Ferguson, Missouri. The news was getting SO depressing early in the summer that people were waiting for something to feel good and talk about. I was having trouble going on Facebook at the start of the summer. There was so much disagreement about what was going on in the world and so many divisions over it all. I felt shaken, quite honestly. But these videos are SO MUCH FUN. I’ve seen small kids getting involved, as well as my favorite celebrities joining in. It’s also summer. Kids are home from school. It’s hot out. People can dump a bucket of water on them and then jump in the pool. I love the reactions after the icy water drips down. The chilly screams….

To think that just a few weeks ago, people didn’t know what ALS was – now even young kids understand the nature of this dreadful disease. The Ice Bucket Challenge involves dousing a bucket of ice water on one’s head or donating to the ALS Association in the United States. The one who takes the challenge also has to nominate three more people. It doesn’t take much to get involved – a bucket of water and an iPhone or video recorder. Heck, you don’t even have to know much about the disease to participate.

Next, the people nominated are taking the mission very seriously. Once your name is put out there, it seems hard to refuse – you have publicly been called up (on social media) and if you don’t reciprocate, you might get chastised! The result is a ripple effect – when someone gets asked, they are responding publicly  and posting within 24 hours. I have never seen my social media streams, particularly my Facebook feed, so full of responses to one single campaign.

The hash tags (#IceBucketChallenge #ALSIceBucketChallenge) are easy and logical and the calculation of social media impressions on each is HUGE. I would imagine that the mission is also bringing people to social media for the first time. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook must have seen great growth from this campaign alone as people want to share: 1. That they made a video and joined the biggest revolution of the summer. And  2. That they are generous. Even Mark Zuckerberg has gotten involved and posted his video on Facebook!

Also, no one is pushing anyone to participate. It even seems like the ALS Association has been quiet since the start of the campaign. It wasn’t even a very strategically executed idea – it was creative, fun and well timed. When I work on a campaign, I hit social media hard. This was such an easy effort on all fronts. The ALS Association must be in their element.

So, the end results? Marketers need to come up with simple ideas that involved video that have the potential to go as viral as #IceBucketChallenge. I suspect we will see many, many more. The question is what is next? As for the people making a stink about all talk and no action, the money is certainly flowing in so maybe you should go bark up a new tree. Take it from me, I was cynical at first, too. But I am no longer. All I have to do is watch the video above and it makes me realize how successful the ALS Bucket Challenge was. You don’t have to make a video – I haven’t been nominated so I haven’t. Just go here and donate: http://www.alsa.org/donate

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  1. Yup, well analyzed. I was cynical too at first and seeing those numbers makes it hard to have one iota of negativity. Good for them!

  2. This is a great way for awareness. If you are not comfortable donating to this organization, there are many other ones who need money too.

  3. While I didn’t do the ice bucket challenge I liked watching the videos. I like the awareness it raised and the concept.

  4. I was nominated by my friend. I dread doing it but it’s for a good cause!

  5. I saw some teens in a local park doing it this weekend. It’s a park known for teens that normally cause trouble, so to see them doing something productive was refreshing!

    I am glad to see the way this took off!

    I say the next challenge should be the send Ascending Butterfly tons of cheesecakes challenge. Where everyone sends me cheesecakes and I post pics of me eating them! ROFLMAO!!!! 🙂

  6. Holly,
    I wish I’d known you hadn’t been nominated. I would have nominated you. I think it’s a great social media tool and agree that at this point we just want to feel good about something!

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