In the summer of 2014, the online landscape exploded with an unlikely movement: dumping buckets of ice water on people’s heads. The close of each short video leveraged the power of social media, as a soaking star challenged their friends to either a) donate money to the ALS Association to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or b) dump an equally freezing bucket of water on their own heads. In many cases, the participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge did both. By the time the craze cooled off, the ALS Association had collected an estimated $115 million — an exponential increase in donations to fight a disease with relatively low awareness.
Two years later, the ALS Association is answering a critical question: what did all the money do? Last week, the association announced that the fundraising efforts from the viral campaign have paved the way to a major discovery. The ALS Association funded Project MinE’s global gene sequencing effort, and researchers announced that they have identified a new ALS gene for a potential target for therapy. “Global collaboration among scientists, which was really made possible by ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations, led to this important discovery,” Dr. John Landers, Ph.D., of University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., said in a statement. “It is a prime example of the success that can come from the combined efforts of so many people, all dedicated to finding the causes of ALS.”
It’s also an example of the power of a simple, shareable marketing effort. The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t like traditional association fundraising efforts. This wasn’t about asking employees in a call center to dial a list of numbers each night. There were no postcards mailed. In fact, the ALS Association didn’t even start it. It gained momentum because people identified with the movement. After Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, first used his own ice bucket and asked others to join the challenge, the ALS Association embraced it and worked to give the challenge an extra boost with hashtags and social media graphics.
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Spreading The Word About Its Impact
The Ice Bucket Challenge has faded into the rearview for the vast majority of people who accepted the call to action. Their checks were cashed long ago, and their shirts have dried. As the initiative nears its two-year anniversary, though, I applaud the ALS Association for making a big media push to spread an equally crucial piece of information: the value of all those donations. From the New York Times to CBS News to The Guardian, I’ve read about this gene discovery in every major media outlet over the past five days. A repeat of the Ice Bucket Challenge seems very unlikely — viral crazes like this don’t often have sequels — but the ALS Association’s efforts to educate the public on the impact of the fundraising can play a crucial role in shaping a sustainable source of donations for years to come.
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