Anyone active on social media is aware of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. For those unfamiliar, its as simple as it sounds – getting people to dump a bucket of ice on their heads and challenging others to do the same. According to the ALS Association, the effort is intended to get people to take the challenge, donate and help create a world without ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
What started off in a grassroots campaign to support a 29-year old former Division 1 baseball player stricken with the disease quickly took off in a viral manner, thanks to its ubiquitous presence on Facebook and other social media outlets. Experts believe the factors that allowed the campaign to go viral are that its easy to execute (dump a bucket over your head), its both social and competitive, and it ties into a worthy cause.
The campaign raised awareness for the disease, raised acceptance of the disease, and highlighted how the issues researchers face in targeting the disease are challenges faced by other degenerative disorders such as Parkinsons. Thus, ALS is taking its campaign to a whole new level, suggesting this is not just a fight against ALS, but a fight against any degenerative disorder.
The results of the campaign have been incredibly successful. Reports from the ALS website and other media outlets suggest that Since July 29, the campaign has raised $62.5 million and is now collecting $10 million each day. In comparison, the ALS Association raised $2.2 million in the same period last year. Its likely the amount will continue to grow just as quickly, as more people are becoming aware that the challenge isn’t just about dumping ice on your head, but also about raising money for the charity itself.
One aspect of the Challenge that has received much less attention is the fact that the viral campaign may forever change the future of stem cell research. With a huge injection of funding and nearly unanimous support for a cause where previous conversation on the topic was labeled as taboo due to the depressing nature of its effects, it remains to be seen if the collective consciousness has shifted and is now not only willing to discuss and support fighting the disease, but also support the methods with which researchers fight the disease.
Foremost among the methods researchers pursue to fight ALS is stem cell therapy. According to the ALS Association website, “Therapy for ALS would ideally be a small molecule or a simple compound that a patient could swallow as a pill. This is only one possible route towards a treatment.” It goes on to say that there are two major ways to achieve this “ideal” including genetic engineering and stem cell therapy.
These are some of the most ethically challenging activities in science today. As expected, religious groups have already come out voicing concern about the Challenge and its potential effects supporting stem cell research. The Washington Post reports that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has asked Catholic schools to refrain from donating to the ALS Association due to the possibility that funds may be used to support stem cell research. It remains to be seen whether others will follow suit.
The question is whether this widespread support, funding, and attention will translate into the same overwhelming support for ALS research projects and targeted therapies. Its conservative to estimate that the campaign will bring in more than $100 million for the ALS association. Up to this point the ALS Association has committed $99 million to find effective treatments and a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. That means that in roughly 30 days, the Ice Bucket Challenge effectively doubled the power, influence, and capabilities of the ALS Association.
Like any social media campaign, the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t a single event, it’s part of a larger strategy. Few organizations, whether charitable or otherwise, are lucky enough to double their operating budget in the span of a few months thanks to a single campaign. Its difficult for managers to effectively manage this windfall and the responsibilities it entails.
This viral campaign can serve as a case study for any business or association struggling to get attention and how it intends to cope with its success. The question is whether in this situation the ALS association can channel this newfound support into ongoing support for all of the organization’s stated objectives. Foremost among the ALS Association’s stated objectives is finding a cure. Finding a cure most likely means expanded activity in stem cell research and therapy. For the ALS Association, it seems the easy part was raising the money. The hard part is leveraging its newfound support base to shift the collective consciousness of society in order to support efforts that were previously fraught with ethical ambiguity.