The big picture
Between 29 July and 28 August, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association received $98.2m in donations, compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year.
Its British equivalent, the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, received around £3.5m, a seven-fold increase in the average monthly amount. Other causes have benefitted; by the beginning of September, Macmillan Cancer Support had raised around £3m using the challenge.
The challenge prompted contrary displays of charitable support; donations to Water Aid spiked, with people taking alternative challenges to highlight the lack of access to clean water for many people in the world. In Gaza, a university student started a Rubble Bucket Challenge page on Facebook to remind the outside world of the devastation wrought by Israeli airstrikes. In India, a journalist came up with the Rice Bucket Challenge in a bid to alleviate hunger among the poor.
The BBC reported that more than 2.4m ice bucket-related videos were posted on Facebook and 28m people uploaded, commented on or ‘liked’ ice bucket-related posts. On image sharing website Instagram, 3.7 million videos were uploaded with the hashtags #ALSicebucketchallenge and #icebucketchallenge.
Google searches for ALS and MND rose sharply during August. The ALS Wikipedia page had 2.7m views, compared with 1.6m for the preceding 12 months. Daily visits to the ALS Association’s website hit a peak of 4.5m, compared with 17,500 normally. The MND Association’s site average increased from 1,400 to 153,000. Twitter mentions reached 4.5m and the two associations’ followers increased by 15,000.
The phenomenon had its roots in the cold water challenge, variations of which have been practised around the world for decades. Earlier this year, US sportsmen began circulating the ice bucket challenge amongst each other, either for fun or for charity in general.
The link with ALS appears to have started with Charles Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, who was responding to a friend who told him “pour ice over your head and I’ll donate to the charity of your choice”. He chose ALS because his cousin is a sufferer of the disease.
Kennedy then challenged his cousin’s wife, and the challenges eventually reached New York-based ALS activist, Pat Quinn, who documents his battle with the disease on the website Quinn 4 The Win. Through Quinn’s network it spread to former Boston college baseball player Pete Frates, also an ALS sufferer.
“No one at ALS or MND sat down and planned this, it wasn’t their idea, it’s something that has happened to them because of social media and the internet,” said Joe Saxton, director of not for profit communications company Nfpsynergy and the former chair of the Institute of Fundraising. “Social media is about friends talking to friends. [It] is extraordinarily powerful for charities but it’s not something they can particularly control – campaigns like this are always a bonus.”
There was criticism; Daily Telegraph journalist Willard Foxton described the challenge as “a middle-class wet T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists” and Bloomberg writer Leonid Bershidsky called it a “narcissist’s bonanza”.
But Euan MacDonald, the founder of Euan’s Guide, a website that features information and reviews about disabled access around the UK, said: “I have had MND for 10 years now and for anyone affected by this disease, the ice bucket challenge has been the most wonderful phenomenon.
“It is rare for MND to get this much support and I can only be grateful to those who have taken part. Selfies and social media being used for charitable causes are no bad thing. It is worth looking at the ends not the means and for people facing this brutal disease, it has given a bit more hope and a spring in our step.”