The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – It Might Be Annoying, But It Works

The ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge is undeniably the viral marketing stunt of the summer. When I first learned about it in late July, I dismissed it as another piece of hashtag activism that, while it might raise some awareness about the terrible disease that is ALS, would likely have little impact when it came to actual fundraising.

I was not alone in this hypothesis. Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, chairman of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “As an example of transforming biomedical research and Lou Gehrig’s disease, one needs to be a bit more hesitant and skeptical.” His major argument, as laid out on earlier this month, is that the National Institute of Health spends more than $30 billion per year on basic health research – meaning the amount raised during this challenge was “very unlikely to be transformative.”


Photo Source: Hot Gossip Italia (CC)

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading that Dr. Emmanuel and I were very wrong in our doubt. When Matthew Herper of Forbesresearched the actual spending versus money raised, he discovered that “…the entire amount spent annually on ALS by the feds and charitable organizations…is $80 million.” Since the Ice Bucket Challenge was introduced on July 29, the ALS Association has raised $41.8 million – $39.7 million more than was raised during the same period last year, according to an ALS Association press release. In just 24 days, this challenge raised nearly half of what ALS spends in one entire year – an irrefutably transformative amount indeed, and a number that continues to grow by the minute.

Not only is the ALS Association succeeding on the monetary front but, perhaps more significantly, it has gained 739,275 new donors to add to its database. Growing a donor database is one of the most important aspects of any fundraising campaign: the more people you can contact, the more contributions you will likely receive. Some of these new contacts will certainly unsubscribe. According to the email marketing firm Constant Contact, the average unsubscribe rate for health non-profits is .26% per email sent. Even if the Association loses more than that amount monthly, it will still end 2015 with more than 700,000 new donors in its database. Though it remains to be seen how many of these new donors will give again, their sheer volume gives the Association a head start.

And the challenge has indisputably raised awareness. In his August 19 article, Dan Diamond, a Forbes contributor, quoted Carrie Munk, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer for the ALS Association as saying, “…the real positive story out of this is the visibility that this disease is getting.” Her statement comes on the heels of a pre-challenge ALS Association survey showing that in 1,000 people, “only about half were aware of ALS.”

So now we wait to see the long-term impact of what may be the most successful online fundraising campaign ever launched. I hope this challenge will continue to raise funds and awareness for the ALS Association. I hope those who gave will give again, whether to this nonprofit or another. More than anything, I hope that we will find a way to put an end to this horrific disease.

A quick note – those of us in the West are no strangers to the fact that we’re in the midst of a severe drought. If you are going to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, please do what we did and purchase bottled water and bagged ice rather than using tap water and further depleting our resources.

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