Gauging the Impact of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Bucket ChallengeA baby walking a dog. An adult sitting in a high chair. A group of women “twerking” in front of a bunch of children. Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason why something goes viral.

Then there’s the latest trend making big waves, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In an effort to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, celebrities and everyday people alike are taking the plunge. And to say the movement has gone viral is an understatement. Donations to the ALS Association have skyrocketed between July 29 to Aug. 19. More than $22 million has been donated during that time, compared to $1.9 million in donations during the same time last year, the organization said.

So, if you’re not in touch with this movement, here’s the complete breakdown of the challenge and its historic spread to all corners of the web.

What Is the Challenge?

The entire challenge revolves around two key concepts: raising funds and awareness to help find a cure for ALS, and watching friends, family members, and your favorite celebrities doused by an ice-cold bucket of water. To participate, people make a video of themselves getting an ice-cold bucket of water dumped on them. The videos are then posted on various social media platforms, and participants challenge their friends and family to do the same or donate $100 toward ALS research (or both).

The challenge, though, wasn’t always tied to ALS. On July 15, NBC’s “Today Show” host Matt Lauer had water poured over his head, thanks to a challenge from golfer Greg Norman. Lauer said he would donate the money to Hospice of Palm Beach County, then he urged other celebrities to do the same.

Weeks later, Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former college baseball player, learned about the challenge from his buddy, Pat Quinn. Both men have ALS, and they wanted to turn the challenge into an ALS fund-raiser. Frates’ first take on the challenge was simply a video he posted on his Facebook page of him listening to the Vanilla Ice song, “Ice Ice Baby.”

Since then, the movement blew up on social media circles, with David A. Frankel of Inc. calling it a digital phenomenon. So, what’s made this movement so popular, so fast? The big reason is that anyone can participate and pay the challenge forward to friends and family members. As Allison Lantagne of the Huffington Post notes, the average adult Facebook user has approximately 338 friends, 64 percent of which check the social network daily. Therefore, it’s no surprise that this fun challenge is popping up on newsfeeds around the globe.

Is This Challenge Really Raising Awareness for ALS?

According to the ALS Association, about 30,000 Americans have the disease. Life expectancy is typically two to five years, as the disease attacks the nerve cells and eventually leads to paralysis.

But the organization saw only modest gains in donations until the latest viral movement took hold. These days, celebrities like Taylor Swift, Bill Gates and LeBron James have participated, which has only served to fuel its social media fire. Aside from the massive influx in donations, more than 1.2 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos have been shared on Facebook between June 1 and Aug. 13, compared to 2.2 million mentions on Twitter since July 29, the New York Times reports. And, the ALS Association has picked up more than 307,000 new donors, the organization reports.

How You Can Help

If you want to help in the fight against ALS, you have a few options. First, regardless of the size of your donation, the ALS Association is always thankful for any help and support. If you’d like to donate, here’s the link. But if you’re unable to help financially, you can still take the challenge and post it online. Once you’ve taken the plunge, urge your friends and family to do the same.


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