Cool Down For Charity: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Goes Viral!

5 Sep 2014

By now, most people have seen friends or celebrities pour buckets of ice water over their heads as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge for the neurodegenerative condition, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

It has been dubbed one of the most successful charity drives ever, having gone viral and taken over social media to an extent rarely achieved by health care topics.

The challenge involves pouring a bucket of ice water over your head while someone takes a video. You call out three friends to do the same thing within 24 hours or donate $100 (or both), and then post the video on social media.

In just weeks, millions have participated in the challenge and raised awareness of the issue ranging from Hollywood heavyweights to local university students.

In addition, The ALS Association has reported a ten-fold increase in year-over-year donations with $98.2m raised from 29 July to 28 August – compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year.

Affecting almost 2,000 Australians, the average life expectancy of a person diagnosed with ALS is just two to three years as their ability to walk, speak, swallow and even breathe steadily deteriorates.

Recently, 20 researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) participated and braved the Ice Bucket Challenge including Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) director, Professor Perry Bartlett who said the importance of ALS research to combat a disease that traps a victim in their own body was essential.

“Although it’s cold being doused with icy water, it’s very mild in comparison to motor neuron disease,” said Professor Bartlett.

Furthermore, Professor Bartlett also challenged former Brisbane Lord Mayor, Queensland Great and Chair of QBI’s Advisory Board, Dr Sallyanne Atkinson and all the heads of large neuroscience centres and institutes that work on MND in Australia, to take the Ice Bucket Challenge.

“Furthermore, I think the directors of these institutes should agree to be dowsed annually until a real finding or a cure to this disease occurs,” he said.

Dr Jason Ketter, Director of Advancement at the Business, Economics and Law faculty at UQ, believes the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge occurred due to several key factors.

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was successful because the cause is worth supporting, it was unique (and manageable for an individual to do), and from the start they got Hollywood stars behind it and this helped to drive the social media that followed,” Dr Ketter said.

“In addition to aforementioned, it became a grassroots campaign that caught fire with an effective use of social media (and YouTube).”

“I suspect people working for the organisation woke up every day to see who was challenging who.  The campaign is like a very effective visual chain letter.”

In light of this charitable event, Australian philanthropists are becoming less fearful to publically announce when they donate to charities – unlike previously where donations were made quietly or anonymously.

Less than 24 hours after Melbourne billionaire Alex Waislitz revealed plans to donate $50 million to charity, the Packer family trumped him by announcing a $200 million philanthropic fund. That followed Westpac’s landmark $100 million scholarship fund, established in April, and a charitable bequest of more than $3 billion – Australia’s largest ever donation – by healthcare tycoon Paul Ramsay.

Dr Ketter believes individuals who participate in charity drives or make donation to organisations and events are helping to raise awareness of the issue by coming forward and announcing their donations.

“If an individual believes in the organisation they are supporting, publicising gifts help raise awareness of the continued needs of the organisation and it also promotes philanthropy more broadly,” Dr Ketter said.

“It can also serve as a ‘public’ challenge among peers who haven’t stepped up to think about making a difference in those areas that are most meaningful to them.”

Dr Ketter further asserts that this donation “trend” will continue at the benefit of the charities involved.

“The way in which the gifts are publicised may evolve in the various media outlets [and] I think you will see more publicity surrounding different size gifts, not just the mega gifts.”