It has been promoted by global celebrities, sports stars, US governors and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom would rather douse themselves in freezing water and shriek on camera than cough up $US100 for charity.
Ice bucket challenge
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Ice bucket challenge
US celebrities, sports stars and politicians are taking up the "ice bucket challenge" to raise awareness and money for the motor neurone disease ALS.
That choice is the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has raised more than $US1 million in less than a month but the debate surrounding the fund-raising tactic is far more complex than its method.
The campaign, run by an association raising funds for a motor-neuron degenerative disease, is spreading across social media so effectively that people know the rules well enough to complain when tennis player Caroline Wozniacki failed to add ice to her water.
Since the rise of social media, charities and advocacy groups have invested hours and hours in trying to work out a wacky twist to propel their social action messages beyond their die-hard supporters.
Greenpeace recently flew globally famous British actress Emma Thompson to Antarctica, where she is using her popularity to make her protest posters, such as this one to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, go viral.
Closer to home and on a tighter budget, the local climate change movement had a breakthrough when someone dressed as an elephant repeatedly crashed political press conferences, pranced about and burrowed into press packs during the 2011 federal election to show that climate change was the "elephant in the room" that needed to be talked about.
David Crosbie, a spokesman for peak charity body the Community Council of Australia, said he expected Australian charities to follow suit as they battled steep odds to stay afloat.
“We’ll definitely see more stunts like this, because they have to,” Mr Crosbie said.
“It’s important to recognise that the level of competition for charitable donations and philanthropic support is increasing around the world.”
But many are also concerned that campaigns such as these encourage the avoidance of giving money.
The Ice Bucket Challenge was started by the ALS Association to raise funds to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that attacks the motor neurons along the spine, causing patients to lose control of their muscles, potentially causing total paralysis.
Critics of the campaign claim that giving money is seen as a consolation prize while spectators walk away with little to no further understanding of the disease or how it can be overcome.
“I tend to be skeptical of organisations or campaigns where the main focus is to raise awareness,” Kara Brown wrote in US news and commentary website Jezebel.
“Unless this translates into some sort of donation or perhaps volunteering your time, it's hard to see how this aids in enacting any changes.
"What it does do is help those participating feel very good about themselves and all the good goodness they're doing.”
But from a viral marketing perspective, the Ice Bucket Challenge is genius.
Watching famous people such as Martha Stewart and the Today Show’s Matt Lauer is fun, especially when they shriek and squeal, which most do.
At the end of the video, the people involved nominate some of their (hopefully famous) friends to take part.
Zuckerberg nominated Facebook’s very popular chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
The ALS Association has raised $US1.35 million since July, compared with the $22,000 it raised in the same period last year.
“It’s been incredible,” ALS director Erin Fleming told The Washington Post.
“In our experience, it’s difficult for awareness campaigns to translate into dollars, but the Ice Bucket Challenge has certainly succeeded on both fronts.”
In Australia, government support for not-for-profits is declining and individual giving hasn’t recovered to pre-global financial crisis levels.
This dual dry up is causing problems for the sector, which employs more than 1 million people and has an annual turnover of $110 billion.
Mr Crosbie said about a third of these billions come from individual donations, so competition is steep.
“This creates strong market forces so if you don’t have brand name recognition like World Vision, Salvos or RSPCA, you need to try something weird in a bid to get that marketing masterstroke,” he said.
Mr Crosbie added that quirky campaigns could rake in millions because those involved would usually donate anyway, but he cautioned campaigns such as this were a quick fix at best as the best fund-raising was about developing strong relationships between donors and organisations and their projects.
Competition is not limited to the charities alone. Many of those involved are competing to take the challenge to the next level. These enthusiastic Canadians even used a helicopter for their Ice Bucket Challenge.