Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

The ALS Bucket Challenge: The Good, the Bad, and the Money

Academic journal article Journal of Critical Incidents

The ALS Bucket Challenge: The Good, the Bad, and the Money

Article excerpt


"C'mon, c'mon...." Josh muttered anxiously as he checked his social media, "maybe someone challenged me today." Josh Bryant was a typical teen who was constantly on social media and had been waiting impatiently for someone to issue him the "Ice Bucket Challenge" for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). As he watched the videos that other teens posted, he wanted to participate as well. Not being challenged was bringing back bad memories of being picked last in gym class, provoking that same sense of social exclusion he experienced when he was younger. Josh did not understand why some people were challenged multiple times while others were not invited to participate.

The ALS Association had challenges to deal with as well. Having no way to anticipate the immense popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the organization was not prepared for the overwhelming response of the social campaign. Although the incredible increase in donations and attention brought to the ALS cause were very welcome, these same factors also created many new issues for the organization. The ALS Association realized they needed to go back and evaluate the pros and the cons of the Ice Bucket Challenge, acknowledging that they were not exactly sure how to handle the immense success of the fundraiser. Could they continue to build on the success of this social media campaign?


The ALS Association was the only non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." ALS was a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure which impacted about 30,000 Americans. The disease affected nerve cells, eventually leading to total paralysis, without impacting the mind of the individual. Life expectancy was usually two to five years from the point of diagnosis. The goal of the ALS Association was to help support those individuals living with ALS, and to help find a treatment and cure for the disease. In a typical year, the ALS Association's budget was approximately $25 million. In fiscal year 2014, the association spent 28% of its operating budget on research (ALS Association, 2014).

The Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was one of the most successful social media fundraising campaigns in history. The process was simple and had wide-spread appeal across all races, ages, and genders. A challenge was issued to an individual to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. That individual then had 24 hours to either donate $100 to the ALS Association or to douse themselves with a bucket of ice water. Many people opted to do both. The challenge was videoed and posted to social media. The challenger then selected three other people to challenge to do the same. Typically, hash tags such as #IceBucketChallenge and #ALSIceBucketChallenge were used to share the video among social media users.

While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did not begin as a dedicated awareness campaign, it quickly grew into the most successful fundraiser in the association's history. There is not a definitive origin for the Challenge, but it is most widely attributed to former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who had ALS. Frates started a personal campaign to leverage his social network, including friends and family, to help create awareness for ALS patients. According to Frates, "The story right now goes: You've got ALS, have it for a little while, a long while, but either way, the end is always the same. ALS always wins. So in order to rewrite the end of it, we need to raise awareness, money." (Steel, 2014). He was able to successfully garner interest from celebrities and sports figures which helped launch the Challenge on a national level. The ALS challenge quickly became a point of pride and social standing; everyone wanted to be included in the fun. Throughout the summer, such well-known public figures as Oprah Winfrey, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Lady Gaga, Chris Hemsworth and Justin Timberlake, all took the Challenge. …

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