Selling Sickness 2013

now that the ice has melted, what’s next for als?

This summer we saw the ultimate game of truth and dare play out over social media with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. All over the world ordinary people as well as celebrities, billionaires, professional athletes, police departments, teachers, mayors, spiritual leaders and even ex-presidents dumped buckets of ice water over their heads to raise money for ALS. According to the ALS Association, this viral campaign raised more than $100 million in donations. That’s a 3,500% increase from the $2.7 million that it had raised during the same time period last year.

Now that the ice has melted, all eyes will be on the organization to see how they spend their windfall. People will want to know where did the money go, and what’s the social return on the investment.

I (K.W.) think most people chose to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with the intention of raising money for finding a cure to this debilitating disease. But they may be surprised that only 28% of its funds go towards research. I know that I was. I was challenged publicly on Facebook by several friends including a family member whose father-in-law was living with ALS (and subsequently passed away from this horrible disease). There was definitely social pressure to participate or else risk being seen as not caring about ALS. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. ALS is a terrible disease and it’s heartbreaking to watch someone you know deteriorate and ultimately die from this death sentence.

Every day we are being bombarded by causes and events to support, like everything “pink” in October, Movember, charity races, extra $1 at the grocery store, and so forth, and it can be difficult to decide whether or not to donate. There are a few great resources available to help decipher how organizations spend their money such as: Charity Watch; Givewell; and Charity Navigator. It’s about having access to information to make informed choices, just like deciding whether to take the latest prescription drug or have the recommended test.

With all this being said, it’s hard not to be amazed at something that raised over $100 Million. It was a brilliant marketing strategy and model for modern fundraising. I can guarantee that non-profit organizations everywhere are trying to emulate or find the next big social media fundraising strategy. According to Plenty Consulting, a firm that specializes in peer-to-peer fundraising, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge worked because it hit a sweet spot: accessible and fun; an understandable, compelling cause; and “social proof” that if those I trust are doing it, I better join and support too.

Regardless if this was a one-time spike in fundraising for ALS, I certainly hope most of money is well spent and makes a dent in finding a cure while helping those who live every day with this death sentence of a disease.

Let’s keep track and make sure the ALS Association accounts publicly for the funds.


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