'Ice bucket challenge' for ALS shows power of viral fundraising

  • Article by: SAMANTHA SCHMIDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2014 - 11:58 AM

The social media campaign has gone viral, raising more than $31.5 million since July.

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.

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  • About ALS

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and impairs the ability to control muscle movement. Patients in later stages may become totally paralyzed.

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