Presidents, athletes, billionaires and Hollywood royalty suffered through icy baths this summer for the cause of ALS, raising $115 million through the ice bucket challenge — though it’s too soon to tell whether the pace of donations will continue.
Under the terms of the challenge, participants either donated $10 to the cause and got drenched, all caught on video, or else they had to make a bigger donation to the ALS Association for the privilege of staying dry.
Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, members of the New England Patriots and Bill Gates took part, with donations rolling in to the ALS Association at a rate of $115 million in the six weeks from July 29 to Sept. 14, when the viral campaign was at its height. The previous year, the association raised just $5 million during that period, spokesman Brian Frederick said.
The goal was to raise money and to spark awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis and eventually death. On that count, the association says, the campaign has worked.
The association seen increased turnout at walks for ALS since the challenge.
“People definitely know of ALS now and are more engaged on the local level,” he said.
More than $20 million in ice bucket contributions went to four research projects trying to find a cure to the disease in October. With matching contributions, the first gifts totaled $34.2 million, the association says.
The projects will take time to play out, but organizers hope the viral fundraising effort will keep donations high and allow funding to continue. Board members just approved an annual budget that would triple the amount spent on research using anticipated donations, Mr. Frederick said.
For now, the challenge continues to earn accolades for its innovative success, including being deemed “inspiration of the year” by Sports Illustrated.
Patrick Rooney, associate dean for research and academic affairs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said the ALS Association now faces the challenge of getting one-time contributors to become involved in the cause as longtime, committed donors.
“How do you get people who were moved by the moment to get moved by the message?” he said. “I think those are very different.”
He said there are no historical parallels to help predict how the ALS Association’s donations will go. Other groups, however, have struggled to convert one-time donors to regular contributors.
The Red Cross, for example, received a huge influx of money after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, yet only a relatively small number of donors became regular contributors, Mr. Rooney said.
While its longevity has yet to be tested, the idea to use a viral giving campaign through social media could change the way other nonprofits raise money as they try to duplicate the success of the ice bucket challenge, Mr. Frederick said.
“It’ll be just raising awareness that social media and social networking can matter and that this is something that, in some ways, may be a one-time fluke,” he said. “On the other hand, it certainly shows the power of social networking and social media and having both a compelling mission and a catchy way of creating interest.”