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Ice Bucket Challenge Raises Millions To Fight ALS


So if you've been on the Internet at all in the past few weeks, you have seen these things - videos of people dumping buckets of ice on their heads. It's all for a good cause. A grassroots fundraising effort to benefit the ALS Association and awareness of ALS - it's a neurodegenerative illness also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. If you haven't seen it, here's how it works - a person makes a video of him or herself dumping a bucket of ice over their head and challenges three other people to do the same - or donate. Dozens of celebrities have accepted the challenge. Here's singer Demi Lovato.


DEMI LOVATO: (Screaming).

MCEVERS: Basketball star LeBron James.


LEBRON JAMES: (Screaming).

MCEVERS: And, wait for it, Oprah.


OPRAH WINFREY: (Screaming).

MCEVERS: To hear more about this kind of online social media fundraising, we're joined by Beth Kanter. She's the author of "Measuring The Networked Nonprofit." I wonder if you could help me out here. I'm a little confused about the ALS challenge because it seems like the idea is either donate $100 to the ALS Association or dump a bucket of ice water on your head. So you're basically giving people the choice to opt out of donating the money. I mean, that seems counterintuitive. Is that a good strategy?

BETH KANTER: Well, actually the strategy is working. The ALS Association is reporting that they've raised over $15 million compared to last year's slightly $1 million during the same period. And the donations have come from existing donors and over 300,000 new donors. I think part of the success is that really it appeals to kind of the way that we're using social media. We're always taking selfies, we're sharing details about our lives. So why not, you know, do a little social narcissism for a good cause?

MCEVERS: I mean, is there any other reason that this ALS challenge has taken off do you think?

KANTER: Well, you know, we've had a summer of downer news, you know, Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, Ferguson, the death of Robin Williams - you know, something that's positive and makes us feel good, I think people are ready for that.

MCEVERS: I mean, like everything on the Internet, there must be some backlash to this. What has been the backlash that you're aware of?

KANTER: You know, it's slacktivism - people are just dumping water over their heads, but they're not donating. It's a substitute for real long-term involvement and engagement with the charity. And all well and good, it won't change a thing or cure ALS or ease the suffering with those with the disease, on and on and on (laughter).

MCEVERS: OK, so that's all the criticism. But, I mean, you're saying it's something that works. Is this a tactic we're seeing other people use in fundraising on the Internet?

KANTER: Well, this whole idea of anybody can be a donor and raise money for a good cause, you don't have to be John D. Rockefeller. You can raise money from your network and your friends to support a good cause. And one of the key ways these campaigns become successful is the social proofing that's involved. And what I mean by social proofing is you're observing other people in your network doing something and you want to participate as well. In this particular challenge, I first heard about this not from the charity and not from colleagues writing about it, but actually one of my husband's friends on Facebook did it and he turned around and said what is this ALS challenge? Should I do this? My friend Paul's doing it.

MCEVERS: So it's peer pressure.

KANTER: Peer pressure, right. Social proofing is peer pressure.

MCEVERS: Another trait you've written about is you are seeing the age of philanthropists dropping. You call them philanthrokids - tell us a little bit about that.

KANTER: This is generation Z, you know, sort of 12 to 18 year olds. And they're very facile and savvy with online social networks and also cell phones. And they're putting those technology tools to use for good causes. And this is different than school fundraising projects where we all brought our box tops in or we went around begging people to donate their lunch money. This is, you know, individuals, kids, going out there and doing fundraisers. An example - I came across one a couple of weeks ago - his name was Braden (ph). He's 10 years old. He started his own nonprofit to address food scarcity in his community in Delaware. And he's raising money so he can purchase bags of food for families in his community and he has gotten recognized. He was invited to the White House by Michelle Obama. So I'm seeing more of this, sort of the ages dropping.

MCEVERS: All right, that's Beth Kanter. Thank you so much.

KANTER: Thank you.

MCEVERS: She's the author of "Measure The Networked Nonprofit." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.