Icy Hot: Why the Ice Bucket Challenge is Spreading like Wildfire

If you’ve logged onto Facebook this week, you’ve probably come across a video of someone dumping a bucket of ice water over their head. Yes, it’s a hot summer day, but there’s more to it than that: those insane, soaking wet people are willing participants in a viral fundraiser called the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Challengers also name a few friends in each video, who are encouraged to either A) take the challenge themselves, or B) donate the the ALS Foundation.

ALS, short for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This devastating condition has a life expectancy of two to five years, during which the patient gradually loses muscle control until they reach a state of paralysis. On average, one ALS patient dies every 90 minutes. There is no existing cure.

Like many Americans, I first heard of ALS when I read an amazing book called Tuesdays with Morrie. It’s a true story of a man’s friendship with his college professor, who dealt with his own ALS diagnosis with humor and grace.

The Ice Bucket Challenge stemmed from another ALS diagnosis: Pete Frates, a baseball player at Boston College, was diagnosed in 2012, and took the challenge to benefit the ALS Foundation at the end of July.

“I was mentally prepared for the fight of my life,” Frates said, “but the hardest part of it all was telling my now-wife, family and friends that I no longer knew what the future held for me.”

“The truth was I was now staring a disease in the face that had no cure and no effective treatment. Prescribed little more than various over-the-counter vitamins, I was entering a gun fight armed with the equivalent of a plastic spork.”

In the past few weeks, the Ice Bucket Challenge has become a certifiable viral fundraiser: between July 29 and August 12, the ALS Association received $4 million, in donations (compared to $1.12 million during the same period in 2013).

Several celebrities have also taken the plunge, so to speak, including 86-year-old Ethel Kennedy , Mark Zuckerberg, Martha Stewart, and Lance Bass.

(I like to imagine that they were all at a party, maybe a barbeque at Martha’s house, when they decided to take the Ice Bucket Challenge together.)

Still, I’ve heard a lot of criticism for the Ice Bucket Challenge, mostly in the vein of, “Why are people dumping ice over their head to ‘raise awareness’? Those people should all be DONATING instead – the ALS Foundation would make so much more money!”

I can see where they’re coming from: our social media feeds are so saturated with irritatingly ineffective “hashtag activism” campaigns that lets people feel they’ve contributed to cause just by changing their profile photo or tweeting a certain hashtag. But the key difference here is that the Ice Bucket Challenge is actually working to raise funds – but why? There are a lot of great causes out there, but every one can’t have a viral fundraising campaign. So what set the Ice Bucket Challenge apart?

Several factors, in my opinion:

-It’s unique, as all viral campaigns are.
-It adds a lighthearted touch to a difficult issue.
-Taking the challenge is relatively simple and inexpensive to accomplish – yet easily earns challengers the currency of attention on social media.
-It allows involvement from participants of almost any demographic – notably, the daring edge appeals to men, unlike many more emotionally-driven fundraising campaigns.
-The Challenge represents the struggle of the patients: “This is a little bit of discomfort for a second, but it’s a lifetime of challenges for people with ALS,” said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. As a Penn State alum, that concept brings me back to Dance Marathon, a fundraiser where participants spend two days on their feet, in representation of the struggle faced by pediatric cancer patients.

What will the next viral charity campaign be? Maybe you just need to create it!

Now go dump some ice on your head, or donate to ALS.

Here’s to making a difference,

Callie Rose