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Ice bucket challenge may be a game changer for non-profit world

August 26, 2014 ­– The ice bucket challenge's phenomenal success is making other charitable organizations rethink how they connect with a younger generation of potential donors.

Since the ALS Association, in Washington, DC, began tracking the campaign's progress on July 29, it has raised more than $88 million and generated 1.9 million new donors in what is one of the most viral philanthropic social media campaigns in history. ALS Canada has to date raised close to $8 million, surpassing its fundraising goal of $7.5 million through the ice bucket challenge campaign.

August 26, 2014  By Alicia Rancilio The Associated Press

Thousands of people, including celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah
Winfrey, have posted videos of themselves getting buckets of ice water
dumped over their heads and challenging others to do the same – or
donate money to The ALS Association, which raises money for Lou Gehrig’s
disease research and assistance.

The ice bucket challenge has
shown it’s OK to be silly for a good cause, says Brian Mittendorf, a
professor at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, who
teaches courses in non-profit finance.

“Normally the model is to
find people who are passionate about a cause and then ask for donations
or to educate people and then seek out donations. (The ice bucket
challenge is) something that’s fun that people can do … people are
taking part in it and then taking the info and donating.”

The viral nature of the effort surprised even The ALS Association.


level of unprecedented giving is (something) I don’t think this country
has seen before outside of a disaster or emergency,” said ALS
Association spokesperson Carrie Munk. “We had no idea it would get to
this point.”

Who should get credit for making this a viral
sensation depends on whom you ask. Some say it began earlier this month
when friends of a 29-year-old Boston man with ALS, a neurodegenerative
disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, did a
group challenge.

It’s also demonstrated that the average Joe or Jane can make waves.

of the big take-aways is the power of individuals who are so tightly
connected to a cause can really make a difference,” Munk said. “I’m
pretty sure that if any company or any non-profit had all of the public
relations dollars in the world to come up with a campaign, we never
would’ve seen this kind of success.

Lucretia Gilbert, executive
director of The Pink Agenda, which raises money for breast cancer
research and awareness, believes it will encourage other nonprofits to
get creative on social media.

“It’s a very simple thing and that’s kind of the beauty of it. Everyone can do this challenge,” she said.

effort comes at a time when private groups are searching for new ways
to raise dollars in the wake of tighter federal government spending on
basic medical research, including on diseases like ALS.

The U.S.
National Institutes of Health is spending about $30 billion this year,
money that is divided in a highly competitive process to scientists
around the country, and the world, to pursue what are deemed the most
promising leads to understand various diseases and find new targets to
fight them.

Congress cut government spending last year; in 2012,
the NIH’s budget was $30.8 billion. And even before those cuts, the
agency’s budget hadn’t kept pace with inflation for about a decade. As a
result, the NIH is funding about one in six grant applications – down
from about one in three a decade ago, director Francis Collins said
earlier this year.

For Lou Gehrig’s disease, the NIH’s estimated budget this year is $40 million, down from $44 million in 2012.

technology for fundraising campaigns, of course, isn’t a new idea:
Perhaps one of the most enduring began in 1966 when the Muscular
Dystrophy Association had its first annual Labor Day weekend telethon.
Last year, it raised $59.6 million in contributions. Fundraisers have
also embraced donating by text message in recent years.

But some
fundraisers contend that one of their greatest challenges is asking the
same people for money year after year – a challenge successful social
media campaigns could solve.

Mindy Bailey, corporate and
community development specialist for JDRF, a foundation that raises
money to fight Type 1 diabetes, said volunteers want to come up with a
similar idea to fuel donations.

“We have had a lot of people
reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do the ice bucket
challenge,’” Bailey said. “Recently we had a woman say, ‘I’m thinking of
doing a pie-in-your-face idea.’ The wheels have been turning.”

However, not everyone is a fan of the public approach of the ice bucket challenge.

#NoIceBucketChallenge is a hashtag on Twitter that’s being used for a variety of reasons.

just think it seems hokey and far too gimmicky and a hot trend and part
of the whole ‘me’ culture of ‘Oh look at me. Pay attention to me,’”
said Cameron Mitchell of New York. “The charity part seems like an

Some even argue that it’s wasteful to dump water,
even for a cause, especially in places like California, where there’s a

The California Water Board offered a measured response.

doesn’t violate any of our regulations. People should always use good
judgment whenever they use water while we’re in a drought. On the other
hand, we understand that this is a charitable event,” said George N.
Kostyroko, director of the California State Water Resources Control
Board’s office of public affairs, in an email.

Annoyed, impressed
or otherwise, the ice bucket challenge has people talking – and ALS’s
Munk asserts that even if they don’t donate, the campaign has raised
public awareness, a major focus of the organization that last year spent
32 per cent of its annual budget on public and professional education
and 27 per cent on research.

Just a few years ago, she said, only about 50 per cent of Americans knew what ALS is.

“We’re really looking forward to see how the needle moves,” she said.

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