In the couple of hours it took an official from the ALS Association to return a reporter’s call for comment, the group’s ubiquitous ice bucket challenge had brought in a few million more dollars.
Approaching $100 million, the viral fundraising campaign for the ailment better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease has put the ALS group into the top ranks for medical charity donations. Since the end of July, the money has been sloshing in at a rate of about $9 million a week. Last year, from July 29 to Aug. 26, the group raised just $2.6 million.
It’s caught everyone off-guard, none more so than the ALS Association folks. But they know this is likely a one-off phenomenon, and the group now faces the task of spending all that money wisely. Research, care and advocacy are the group’s three main missions – but officials say they don’t know yet exactly how they’ll use the astonishing windfall.
I think even if I or any PR person at either a nonprofit or a for-profit company had all of the PR dollars in the world to invest, no one would have come up with this idea, says Carrie Munk, the association’s spokeswoman. We realize there are responsibilities that come with being good stewards of these dollars.
Part of what’s surprising is that ALS – or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – is one of those orphan diseases. It is a neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis and death, and the association estimates that about 5,600 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
This campaign hasn’t exactly put the charity in the same neighborhood as giants like the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association or Susan G. Komen for the Cure – which raised $889 million, $529 million and $310 million last year, respectively.
People who have been in this space for a long period of time feel like it’s a dream come true, Munk says.
In case you’ve been under the proverbial rock, here are the basic rules: Someone issues a challenge – that you allow yourself to be doused with a bucket of ice and water, like winning coaches along the sidelines. Then, the challengee has 24 hours to make a $100 donation to the ALS Association or submit to the water torture.
In the last month, people such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former President George W. Bush has been doused. The Internet and airwaves are awash in videos of people taking the challenge – even if they fully intend to write the check.
Jonah Berger, author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, says it’s like a modern-day chain letter – except, in this case, everyone will know if you break the chain.
And now, others are co-opting the bucket challenge for their own causes.
Actor Matt Damon, for instance, dumped toilet water over his head to call attention to his passion – safe drinking water. Actor Orlando Jones showered himself with bullets in the wake of black teenager Michael Brown’s shooting death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
The American Institute of Philanthropy’s CharityWatch gave the group a B+ rating for spending about 73 percent of their cash budget on programs.