From late-July to late-August, many people began to notice Facebook friends dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, with videos to prove it.
Dubbed the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” soon people without Facebooks — parents, siblings alike — also joined in on the newest internet “fad” that had swept the nation.
The challenge, in short, requires those nominated to dump a bucket of ice water over their heads or donate money to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis [ALS] Association.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” according to the ALSA.org website.
While the fundraising part of this challenge was originally severely overlooked, sentimental and eye-opening videos from ALS patients and families themselves began making their way around the internet, prompting millions of Facebook users and even celebrities to get involved and make donations.
However, with no way to guarantee a person actually donated money, challengers often got by without lifting a cent out of their pockets.
“Although probably eighty-percent of the people doing videos have not been involved in donating a cent, it is undeniable that the videos have spread awareness to the point that the ALS foundation has raised millions more than they have in a long time,” KSC student Arian Deihim said.
Deihim appeared to be right on that point.
As of Sept. 4, the Ice Bucket Challenge assisted the ALS Association in raising $108.4 million over the course of 30 days — a drastically different number from the $2.8 million the association had made over the same amount of time the year prior, according to their ALSA.org website.
“Every advertising company in the country is kicking themselves for not thinking this up first,” Deihim said.
But what was it about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that made it so successful?
Why did it strike so many people’s attention?
In a Forbes.com article, contributing writer Rick Smith suggested that there are three easy explanations: it was big, it was simple and it was selfless.
“Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story,” Smith wrote.
Smith continued, “Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.”
Senior and Environmental Science major Marisa Morrison suggested that it was the originality of the challenge that led to its status of international sensation.
“I think it went viral because it was a different way to raise awareness, it wasn’t just—’oh look at this sad video and give us your money’; we don’t respond well to that. We respond to things that are outrageous. That’s why I think it worked so well,” Morrison said.
Every success story, however, comes with its fair share of controversy.
Much of the criticism found on the Internet surrounding the latest phenomenon raises questions regarding where the money being donated is actually being spent.
On their ALSA.org website, the ALS Association has clarified that they spend a total of 79 percent on programs and services.
If any supporter, it clarifies, would like to see 100 percent of their donations go towards research, all they would have to do is check a box on their online donation form, or call and request it personally.
Junior Emily Fennes, president of Circle K, Keene State College’s on-campus organization for volunteer work and fundraising, had her own input about the challenge.
“Even though some people may argue that the challenge is pointless because there is not a 100 percent donation rate, the ALS Association has still seen a dramatic increase in not only monetary donations but most importantly awareness and support,” Fennes said.
The ALS Association’s website also provides a clear and simple pie chart depicting how all of the donated money gets separated.
In 2014, 7 percent of their money went to administration, 14 percent to fundraising, 19 percent to patient and community services, 28 percent to research and a total of 32 percent to public and professional education.
As President of Circle K, Fennes said she believes that the use of social media in fundraising efforts is something that is unavoidable in today’s society.
“I think we live in a world where technology and the media are a huge part of our lives,” Fennes said.
Fennes continued, “For a group, whether it’s a small group on a college campus or the ALS Association, getting the word out about a cause is simpler with the help of social media.”
Morrison shared a similar opinion, noting that the use of social media not only helped tremendously in the fundraising for ALS, but also in raising awareness on a disease that was before unrecognized.
“I think that using social media as a gateway to spread knowledge is the best thing about it when [it’s] done for good and not politics, or something that can be offensive,” Morrison said.
Morrison continued, “People are going to oppose it because there will always be those people who don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, or they think of things, like ‘Oh, well why is this only for ALS? There’s millions of other illnesses out there,’ and they have a right to that opinion,” Morrison said.
Deihim also understood the controversial conversation that surrounds the challenge today, suggesting the possibility that the good intentions of the Ice Bucket Challenge were masked by the internet sensation.
“I think the main thing that is upsetting people is that ALS is a serious disease, but the ice bucket challenge has become this kind of viral joke and people have lost sight of the fact that the original purpose was to raise money for the foundation,” Deihim said.
At the end of the day, the Ice Bucket Challenge brought awareness of ALS into the lives of anyone connected to social media.
Fennes admitted that without the challenge, she doubted many people would have known about this disease at all.
Fennes explained, “Before this challenge popped up all over our Facebook home pages, how many of us actually knew that this neurodegenerative disease inflicts pain on about 30,000 Americans currently, or even what ALS is?”
Fennes continued, “I can honestly say that I did not, but the constant posts that raised awareness to millions of people made me realize how important [it is that] we spread the awareness about not only this terrible disease but others as well.”
Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.