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How the Ice Bucket Challenge Became a Social Media Sensation

With the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the rear view (save for a few dry cleaning bills), it's time to take a look at how you too could bring in millions of new donors and funds in 30 days and how to keep the magic going after the campaign ends.


Pay attention to social media

Ice bucket challenges go back further than this summer, but this one was started by patient Pete Frates in Massachusetts, says ALS Association grant and communications specialist Alex Swope. The former Boston College baseball team captain tapped into his network of friends to get one started in July. It spread like wildfire and the ALS Association found out about it through social media. The association then worked with members to make it even more viral. 


Stay on top of messaging

The organization thought each day of the challenge would be the last, but it kept going and going. As it spread around, the association focused on keeping its messaging timely and widespread, says Alex, speaking to the Association Foundation Group in DC last week. One way to do that was asking members early on to make sure the organization’s website was included in each ice bucket video posted to social media. Members were also given bullet points on how to talk about the challenge and ALS. The org ended up with three million new donors in 30 days from the end of July to the end of August. The challenge raised $150M for the organization and increased awareness through the media and celebrities.


Make a plan for the money

At least 90% of donations from the challenge went to the national organization, leaving local chapters wondering if they would get a cut for the local health services they provide. Even constituents for the local chapters were going to the national organization to donate. Alex, who works for the association's DC/MD/VA chapter, says an internal committee has been formed to find the most effective way to use the money. (Alex is showing us his ice bucket challenge.)


Figure out how to keep new donors

Alex, here with AFG board members Lara Kadytak and Liz Beyland, says the organization was flooded with calls from reporters, constituents, and critics, which made for a stressful experience since staff weren't trained on messaging for people unfamiliar with ALS and the organization. The next communication challenge for the organization is keeping new donors, even though many of them may not have a direct tie to the disease. One strategy is to reach out to ALS constituents and help them tell their personal stories.