Athletes, executives and even a newborn babe are dumping on the ALS Association, and the unsuspecting charity could not be more grateful.
The “ice bucket challenge” has people all over Minnesota and the United States dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, posting videos on social media and challenging friends to do the same or donate $100 to the ALS Association.
During the past month, the viral do-gooding has caused fundraising to skyrocket and spread amazement — as well as some disdain — about the power of online fundraising.
“This was something that struck us out of the blue,” said Dale Freking, a board member for the regional chapter of the ALS Association. “It wasn’t something that was orchestrated by ALS. The social media has taken off and created a groundswell of interest.”
More than 28 million people have posted, commented or liked a post related to the challenge on Facebook, and more than 2.4 million ice bucket challenge videos were on Facebook through Sunday, the social media site reported.
The regional ALS Association chapter, which represents Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, has seen funds and donors rise by more than 100 percent. By Wednesday morning the national association had raised $31.5 million since July 29, doubling from $15.6 million on Monday. That compares with only $1.9 million raised in the same three-week period last year.
Gov. Mark Dayton plans to dump ice water on his head on live radio Thursday for the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair, spokesman Matt Swenson said. Professional athletes, coaches and owners of the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and Wild have posted ice bucket challenge videos — including a video of two Zambonis dumping ice on Wild hockey player Jason Zucker.
Corporate executives such as Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly and Carlson CEO Trudy Rautio have met the challenge, along with scores of other Minnesotans. Jody Lund, a Plymouth resident, said it’s almost like a chain letter — you pass it around.
“If someone mentions your name and calls you out to do it, it motivates you to take part,” Lund said. “How can you not?”
A grass-roots beginning
Social media experts like Lisa Grimm, director of public relations and social media at Minneapolis ad agency space150, said it is important to recognize that the campaign started organically.
It began spreading on social media in July after golfer Greg Norman challenged Matt Lauer, host of NBC’s “Today” show, to pour water over his head or donate money to a charity of his choice. It’s reminiscent of last winter’s “cold water challenge,” which had Minnesotans and residents of other northern states jumping into lakes and rivers for unspecified charities — to the alarm of law enforcement.
The ice bucket challenge’s link to ALS did not emerge until Peter Frates, a 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player with ALS, turned his challenge into a fundraiser for the disease.
Jennifer Hjelle, executive director of the regional chapter of the ALS Association, said the ice bucket challenge goes beyond anything the association could have ever dreamed up on its own.
“I don’t have a marketing budget,” Hjelle said. “If we were to try to initiate this here, we wouldn’t have the money to pull it off.”
Viral trends can rarely be manufactured, Grimm said. While charities might be tempted to latch onto a viral video — say, using last year’s “Harlem Shake” sensation — to raise money, there is no guarantee that any deliberate strategy will get the attention that accidental movements do.
“Are you going to be as successful as the ice bucket challenge? Probably not,” Grimm said.
Ravi Bapna, director of the Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative at the University of Minnesota, said this is the first time he has seen a trend combine three different mechanisms for social contagion — a “perfect storm” of marketing.
The videos invite people to use social signaling by choosing and challenging their “coolest” friends to play along. It also provides what Bapna calls “warm glow altruism,” allowing people to show off their support of a charity to their friends. The third mechanism is social obligation: When people get challenged, they feel obligated to help.
“This actually works across the board,” Bapna said. “That’s what’s cool about it ... it really works for everyone.”
Not all Minnesotans are on board, however. Some critics on social media said that participants are probably spending more money on ice than on donations, Grimm said. She noted that more people are challenging their friends to do both as the trend continues.
And like all trends, the ice bucket challenge will soon be nearing its end, Grimm said. “It seems like we reached critical mass and it’s starting to taper off,” she said.
Freking fears that some people might argue that ALS has received a disproportionate amount of funds compared with other worthy causes.
“I do hope we continue to see some of the same support with the other events we hold,” said Freking, whose sister died of ALS. Even so, he’s catching the wave; he planned a mass ice bucket challenge in Rosemount on Wednesday night with about 150 participants.
A cause without a cure
About 30,000 Americans suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which attacks nerve cells and leads to total physical paralysis and death within two to five years.
There is no cure or any treatment that halts or reverses ALS, and only one approved drug has been shown to extend life for about one to two months, Hjelle said.
The massive boost in fundraising will allow the ALS Association to advance research projects it couldn’t afford before, Hjelle said.
The ice bucket challenge also has raised awareness in a way the charity could not have foreseen. “You can hardly talk to anyone who doesn’t know what ALS is anymore,” Freking said.
Otsego resident Andee Robb knows ALS all too well; it killed her mother in 2010. She plans to walk in the annual Twin Cities Walk to Defeat ALS on Sept. 20 at Lake Phalen in St. Paul, but she also took the ice bucket challenge on Saturday, raising $1,000 in 24 hours.
Her niece, Keira Langenbrunner, may likely be the youngest to have a viral video — she took the challenge 72 hours after she was born. Her father, Ryan Langenbrunner, was challenged while in the hospital, so the parents decided to sprinkle a small cup of ice water over Keira’s head, in memory of her late grandmother.
“The unexpected outpouring of support to just draw attention to the disease has been … so overwhelming for us to sit and watch,” Robb said.