Ice buckets, fund-raising and long-term care

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Whoever dreamed up the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge should be given a medal — and immediately hired to speak at the next long-term care association conference. Such creativity and that kind of Midas touch don't come along often.

The ice bucket challenge slowly rolled into the public's consciousness, at first seemingly just some wacky stunt performed by zealots on personal missions. But as summer wore on, the movement caught fire and picked up steam (which, comes to think of it, is exactly what happens when fire meets water).

How the fund-raising gambit turned into a public tidal wave will be the subject of marketing analyses and college term papers for years to come.

But celebrity entertainers and sports stars, as well as thousands of every-day people, fueled a surge that to this day keeps new video clips of dunkings churning onto public airwaves.

Some of my personal favorites include George W. Bush (who challenged Bill Clinton to get involved), Jack Nicklaus (who dunked himself and his wife, among others) and Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews (just how did he do it that way?!). And, of course, the bright-eyed residents of a certain continuing care retirement community. Each brings a special twist of creativity to his dousing that can be enjoyed by anyone. (So click on the links to check 'em out.)

And they also often pledge donations of their own, something that is not part of the challenge as originally drawn up.

The camaraderie is the real driver of this money-raising juggernaut. You get tabbed by someone to take the plunge and pass along the favor to a handful of others.

Thus far, it's generated $88.5 million in donations, dwarfing the $2.5 million raised by this time last year. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Since the first draft of this article, the numbers have been updated to $94.3 million and $2.7 million, respectively.)  And while hot summer weather and the volume of dousings might have both peaked, they clearly have not run their full course yet. Take that, you smart aleck cynics who haven't been heard from much lately after initially needling with questions such as, “So tell me how soaking yourself helps disease research?”

The brilliance of this is how warmly it is embraced by “regular” people. Where else can you find such a good cause tinged with both benevolence and revenge themes? Ice-bucket dousing have become so prevalent among people I know in recent weeks, it's clear that to many it's a badge of honor, almost a type of social status that one doesn't want to be left out of.

The creativity it took to come up with the idea has been eclipsed only by the amazing enthusiasm and variety of the dunking methods themselves. You know you've made it when many “bests” montages of your activity pop up online, including this humorous “best fails.”

Where else can you see a guy happily getting a frontloader full of rusty-looking water dumped on his head? Or how about a self-professed redneck who throws away his bucket and instead proceeds to blast holes with his shotgun in a water-filled tarp bag hanging over his head.

One woman I know was simply delighted to see her son's face light up as he filled a bucket with water that would be dumped on his mother's head. I also take my hat off to friends who have been called out multiple times by various friends — and taken the plunge numerous times as a result. Serves them right for being so popular.

By the same token, I wish Garth Brooks would have taken his hat off since it deflected most of the two buckets' worth he allowed to be dumped on him while onstage with his guitar. However, his pass-along challenge, was clever. He threw down the gauntlet to the black-and-gold-wearing professional athletes of Pittsburgh — baseball's Pirates, football's Steelers and hockey's Penguins.

The campaign has been so successful, others have co-opted some of the momentum, and nobody has complained. I saw one friend dedicate her dousing to research for Parkinson's disease, which claimed her stepfather's life. Another made a plea for funds to research a disease I had never heard of that is afflicting her grandson.

And to think that not once through all of this have we heard an official from the ALS Association make any kind of appeal for donations. That is nothing short of astounding.

Another thing this dynamo has illustrated is how something that exists 99.9% via social media can invade mainstream America. That's good PR right there.

The lessons long-term care fund-raisers and marketers can learn from this could be endless:

• First of all, realize that a dynamite idea could come at any time, and no goofy proposition is too odd to explore.

• Imagination is clearly the key to having a drive go viral. It also has to be rooted to a good cause. I just don't see a whole lot of chilly soakings cheerfully taking place if the goal is to boost members of Congress' salaries.

• There also has to be a good vehicle by which to spread the message. Something tells me there will never be a shortage of fund-raising stunts on YouTube or Facebook ever again.

• To be truly successful, however, there has to be sincere effort and empathy involved. No question the earnestness is there. And perhaps in a related observation, have you noticed that the affliction now seems to be called “Lou Gehrig's Disease” less and less often?

• Finally, you also need to be able to show favorable results of any new campaign you undertake, and then do it. 

The afterglow of this ALS 2014 drive might very well bring another booming round of fund-raising for ALS next year. An annual “What's next?” curiosity could keep the line moving, as long as there is another fresh promotion to grab onto.

If so, I'll be eager to take part — just like this year. How about you?

Have you or your caring community taken part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Do you have another extremely clever fund-raiser? If so, click here to drop me an email about it.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @LTCEditorsDesk.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.