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ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Social Media Fundraiser Makes a Big Splash

What started as a backyard dare and donation by Chris Kennedy has turned into the largest (unplanned) and most successful philanthropic social media fundraising campaign to date. Thanks to the wave of virality generated on social media, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $100 million in donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) in a single month (July 29th – August 31st). Compare this number to the $2.6 million in donations raised during the same time period last year, and your jaw might just drop.

Due to the organic nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there were no set guidelines. The ambiguity of challenge rules stirred up some criticism as many chose to dump ice water on themselves in the name of awareness over the alternative option of giving. Yet, any and all criticisms aside, people weren’t talking about ALS two months ago and now they are! Together, online donations and Facebook nominations have garnered over three million donors (two million of which were considered first time donors) to the ALSA within a month.

We hope that all these new donors remember their generosity to the ALSA again next year, however many wonder whether this summer’s most notable social fundraising campaign will divert from or increase the giving opportunities to other charities? Some opinions are steadfast that giving isn’t a zero sum game, while others believe that there is statistically a fixed percentage of charitable giving that American households can budget per year. Yet, in the case of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, other charities did benefit. As the challenge went viral, the charity for which people dumped buckets of ice water over their heads was no longer necessarily for the ALSA. In crossing international borders, the campaign has helped raise money for the Motor Neuron Disease Association, MacMillan Cancer Support, and even Water Aid (in support of not wasting clean water).

The bigger question though is whether this kind of success can ever be repeated? The simple answer is, yes. As a matter-of-fact, the Ice Bucket Challenge is reminiscent of previous social campaign successes such as Movember, Kony, and the Human Rights Campaign. Although these campaigns were a bit more planned with different goals, they each gained tremendous viral success via social media that made small actions easily repeatable, sharable, and enjoyable for many. Like Movember, we suspect that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge will return again on the same month next year, and it also confirmed that there is a collective preference to give to charities when the experience can be posted within a social media feed.