ALS Association leverages viral campaign to raise awareness of Lou Gehrig's disease

The ALS Association has raised millions of dollars from people dumping buckets of ice on their heads, from Jimmy Fallon and The Roots to the New York Jets and Martha Stewart.

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots accept the ice bucket challenge.
Jimmy Fallon and The Roots accept the ice bucket challenge.

WASHINGTON: The ALS Association has raised millions of dollars from people dumping buckets of ice on their heads, from Jimmy Fallon and The Roots to the New York Jets and Martha Stewart.

Across the Internet, people are taking the ice bucket challenge and using the hashtag #StrikeOutALS to raise awareness of ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A 29-year-old ALS patient in Massachusetts is credited with getting the ice bucket challenge to go viral for this particular cause.

"Really this isn’t our campaign," said Carrie Martin Munk, chief communications and marketing officer at the ALS Association. "To my understanding the ice bucket challenge has been around for a while."

For the challenge, people post short videos on social channels in which they dump buckets of ice water on their heads, followed by them nominating more friends to participate in the effort. Anyone nominated has 24 hours to take the plunge or donate $100 to an ALS charity.

Munk said people have done it in the past to donate to other charities of their choice.

During what is typically the slowest fundraising period for charities, the viral challenge "couldn’t have come at a better time," said Munk. As of Wednesday, the challenge had generated $5.7 million in donations and had gained 100,000 new donors for the ALS Association and its 38 chapters, she added. The association reported Tuesday it had raised $1.12 million at this time last year.

The ALS Association has been working to keep interest up despite not having more time to plan for the campaign sweeping the nation, said Munk. The organization is continually updating its donation figures online and is staying active on social media, retweeting challenge participants and posting videos to Facebook with the hashtag #StrikeOutALS. The association is also working on creating a landing page on the site, she said.

While the fad may eventually fade, Munk said the association is looking forward to engaging its new donors now committed to the cause.

Munk said she’s seen criticism around whether dumping a bucket of ice on someone’s head can really do anything to help.

"The answer is yes," she said. "The visibility alone is tremendously valuable."

She added that the organization is looking forward to gauging if the ice bucket challenge has "moved the needle on awareness" for ALS.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting brain and spinal cord nerve cells, according to the ALS Association.

The ALS Association partnered with Major League Baseball this summer. On the Fourth of July, all players wore a patch on their arms and the organization arranged for a public service announcement to be shown in ballparks across the country. Munk said the group was "so pleased" with the awareness generated by that effort, and now "the ice bucket challenge has been beyond our wildest dreams."

Several MLB players are keeping the buzz going by participating in the #StrikeOutALS challenge. Sports Illustrated has a list of athletes, team owners, and coaches who have participated so far.

ALS Association president Barb Newhouse took the ice bucket challenge and donated to three other ALS charities, said Munk. One notable figure – President Barack Obama – declined to voluntarily douse himself in ice water, instead opting to make a monetary donation.

Here’s how some celebrities decided to #StrikeOutALS:

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