It’s all about the groundswell

Chances are if you aren’t living under a rock you have heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. In a few short weeks, the haphazard fundraiser has single handedly raised millions of dollars and doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. This type of marketing phenomenon is a communicator’s dream, but in this particular case, it was not a well-thought-out campaign, but rather a simple gesture to make a friend laugh that turned into a fundraising windfall. If you are curious about the origins of the campaign check out this TIME Magazine article or this ESPN video.

Despite all of the good things the Ice Bucket Challenge has generated for an obscure disease that impacts 30,000 Americans at any given time (here are some quick facts if you want to learn more), there has been some criticism. The “rules” of the challenge are: you must either douse yourself with ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association within a 24-hour period of being challenged. Additionally, you must call out others to do the same. I use the term rules very loosely; remember, this was not a well-thought-out campaign created by a marketing team, but rather an organic, fun way for people to do something good that feeds into the narcissistic social media-driven world we live in. It has naturally grown and changed.

Some critics think that people should forego the bucket of ice water altogether and just donate to help further research. Others are concerned that, even though millions of people have been impacted by either watching or participating in the videos, the campaign hasn’t educated people about what ALS is and how they can help. And others are astounded that people would actually post a video to get out of donating to a cause.

I want to address these concerns because these people are missing the point altogether. Here are the facts: in a little over two weeks, $31.5 million dollars has been raised to support research for a rare disease. Of the donations, 637,527 were made by new donors. (These stats are from Wednesday, Aug. 20, and are likely outdated by now.) And, if those facts aren’t enough on their own, the challenge has star power: Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, LeBron James and Jimmy Fallon to name a few. Is the campaign perfect? Absolutely not. Many people don’t even know why they are throwing cold water over their heads. But now, because of the generosity of many, the ALS Association has an opportunity to educate more people than ever before. The organization has been handed a dream fundraising and awareness platform – a groundswell has been born. People can pick apart the campaign all they want, but as someone who has been a part of a community campaign, if you don’t have an audience, your great ideas just flounder and die as soon as they hit the Facebook wall.

My hope from watching this unfold is twofold. One, I hope the ALS Association marketing team is creating a plan. A way to continue the momentum and take advantage of this freak, yet amazing, opportunity. Second, for the other non-profits that are doubtlessly drooling and wishing this had happened to them, I hope instead of trying to duplicate the challenge, they instead choose to engage their current donors and interested parties. A groundswell doesn’t just happen; you must water the garden.

Now it would be clearly irresponsible if I ended this blog without out sharing the “22 people who definitely should have not taken the Ice Bucket Challenge.” Enjoy.

Megan Neri serves as Director of Client Relations at Imagine Communications. Contact Megan at

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