The ALS ‘Ice Bucket’ Challenge: When Schtick Becomes a #PRWin for Charity

Lou Gehrig Speech

It is called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and before the New York Yankees of the 1930s, no one really knew about this tragic disease that attacks the neurons in your brain that connect to the spinal cord. Even the top ALS advocacy group will tell you that:

ALS was first found in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease.

When the ‘Iron Horse’ got afflicted with the disease, ended his historic career in baseball, and gave what is easily one of the top three speeches of all time, ALS got a much-needed nickname — “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

The foundation got its own sort of kickstarter campaign as well. Awareness went up. Involvement went up. And donations went up. And now, decades later, we have people dunking themselves in ice water. To wit, I say, “Whatever works.”

Ever since the not-so-great American recession of 2008, non-profit organizations have experienced some of the worst donor seasons in its history. “Donor fatigue” has set in, which is to say everyone is begging and no one has money.

The “big charities” don’t worry (much) about this because they have received notoriety that keeps on giving. The pinkwashing of this nation with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and all of Hollywood pushing for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, for example. However, just because another charity is not as well known does not mean it is any less deserving of a donation.

There’s Cystic Fibrosis, which takes children way too early from their families. The Salvation Army saves the homeless on a daily basis. ARC courageously serves people and families suffering with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Not everyone gets its own noted spokesperson (Michael J. Fox and Lance Armstrong), a national telethon (MDA and Jerry Lewis), and an entire sport backing its play (Intrepid Fallen Heroes and UFC); yet, they all deserve PSAs on an ongoing basis.

And then, ice buckets showed up providing ALS national acclaim, arguably for the first time since 1939.

Jimmy Fallon Roots ALS

Thanks to national TV appearances and videos like this from ‘The Tonight Show’, ALS has raised $7.6 million in two weeks, according to the Wall Street JournalIn the world of WIIFM and self-indulgence, this seems to the be the new status-quo for donor attention.

Of course, many famous people are doing this for sake of the trend. Sure, they donate a few hundred dollars to a worthy cause, but the premise of this challenge is reason enough — hear about a double-dog dare, video the acceptance of said dare, and challenge up to three more people.

Who wouldn’t bow up to that? It seems no one.

In the past 30 days, there have been more than 118,000 tweets mentioning the #icebucketchallenge, according to Topsy, a social analytics company. It began slowly with just over 100 tweets on July 15 and then exploded this past week, with daily tweets of more than 32,000.

For ALS, this is the miracle for which the worthy organization has been waiting (and praying). And now, look at them. If people don’t have an interest in ALS, at least Web traffic is through the roof so more people will learn how to spell it.

“It’s very difficult to fundraise because most people have never heard of ALS and it’s a very complex disease to discuss and explain,” said Lance Slaughter, head of fundraising for the ALS Association. “We don’t have survivors of this disease.”

All while baseball fans wonder why in the world Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman hasn’t done the challenge to bring it full circle…

Forget the famous people doing this for grins. Ignore the beautiful people taking on the challenge to burn segments on TV. Pay attention to those dealing with this every day. Watch and share this video for the reason why all the others make sense (and cents). Grab a tissue and S/O to BuzzFeed for promoting this challenge from ALS survivor Kreg Palko and his daughter Gabby.