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The Internet sensation of the year — the Ice Bucket Challenge — hasn’t melted just yet, as donations continue flowing to the ALS Association and its leaders remain awestruck over the gush of goodwill.
“We are still trying to make sense of it,” said ALS Association spokesman Brian Frederick. “It was such an overwhelming positive outpouring. We are trying to keep the momentum going.”
The tally to date from all of those online bucket dares: $115 million — more than 20 times the amount reaped by the nonprofit during 2013. That 2014 haul includes a swell of year-end checks totaling $32 million, largely driven by a happy residue of awareness lingering from the summer’s social craze.
While an age-old, medical mystery has yet to be cracked, the impact of "the bucket" is quite tangible.
The contribution spike effectively tripled the national association’s research budget. Worldwide, $220 million was raised.
During six weeks spanning mid-July to Labor Day, more than 2.5 million people participated in the viral campaign — an organic movement that stunned experts on giving. This was an unprecedented charity fad.
“Nobody ever raised that much relying on social media,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“In part, what people liked about the campaign was the symbolic effort of what it feels like to have a disease for a second — the effect of the frozen ice,” Palmer told NBC News. “But it was also fun and something that caught on among celebrities and it was the thing to do.
“And there was the peer influence — you didn’t want to be seen not doing it,” Palmer added. “Even though it was a serious disease, it was a lighter moment.”
The campaign enthralled and attracted everyday Americans and celebrities alike.
Pro hockey player Paul Bissonnette used Canadian glacial water. Actress Olivia Wilde opted for breast milk. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel poured ice water down his pants. And actor Patrick Stewart sipped an icy cocktail before upending a sterling champagne bucket onto his head.
Also on video, a nameless toddler was dunked by her parents – then dropped an F-bomb. And a dental patient attempted the challenge with a mouthful of Novocaine.
Each year, 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS has long been known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” for the New York Yankees great who in 1941 died from the ailment at age 37. An estimated 20,000 American live with ALS, which is progressive and invariably fatal.
In a word, the disease is “brutal,” said ALS Association spokesman Frederick. The average life expectancy is two to five years as ALS robs people of the ability to move and eventually to breathe.
But the Ice Bucket Challenge seemed to inject a summer full of hope into a cause laced with such grim realities.
“The public awareness raised has been fantastic,” Frederick said. “Before the Ice Bucket Challenge, the only thing people knew about ALS was that Lou Gehrig had it.”
Meanwhile, medical charities that raise funds for diseases affecting far higher numbers of people expressed astonishment over the Ice Bucket furor, and scrambled to plot ways to duplicate its massive success.
At the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), which serves the 2.7 million Americans with inflammatory arthritis, there were “a lot of internal discussions” about how the ALS Association could so quickly raise tens of millions of dollars.
“We were beating our heads because we had never seen anything like that,” said Chris Miller, SAA program director. “It was fantastic — we were happy for them, but at the same time, we felt left out. I think a lot of charities felt like that.”
SAA, which raised about $1.3 million in 2013, did see an uptick in its own giving numbers coinciding with the challenge.
For a couple of weeks, we were getting over double our normal donations,” Miller said. “It gave us ideas and got our members coming up with their own fundraising gimmicks.
But we didn’t see anything close to the Ice Bucket Challenge.”