What Can the Church Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge?


What Can the Church Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge?
Can you possibly stand seeing one more thing about the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?  If the answer is “no,” you have my permission to avert your eyes during the rest of this blog.  Go on, find a blindfold, it’s OK.  But if you’re like the rest of us, especially those who are intrigued by this phenomenon, it’s like a train wreck.  You must slow down and take notice.

By now, unless you live in a Hobbit home (though even they get internet these days), you have heard about people challenging one another to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads to raise awareness and money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gherig’s disease. 
I first heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge (it’s so well known now, it gets capital letters) four days ago.  Let that soak in.  Four days ago.  A friend posted a funny video of Bill Gates dousing himself.  I thought it was hilarious, but my question was “I wonder how awareness is translating into funding to find a cure?”  Oh me of little faith.

The ALS Association reports that between July 29 and August 17 of last year (2013), they raised $1.7 million.  This year, during the same time period and with the Ice Bucket Challenge just getting underway, they raised a whopping $13.3 million.  Yesterday (August 19), ALSA reported that $22.9 million had come in.  And as of today (August 20) they are now at $31.5 million.  You can’t argue with success.
As with any viral, wacky, and fun movement like this, there are critics: people are wasting water, no one is getting educated, this is just a feel-good, one shot kind of thing, and frankly we’re getting tired of it.  Undoubtedly, all those things are true.  But once again, you can’t argue with success.  I have thought about and learned more about ALS than I have in my entire lifetime during the last few days, and I would guess a number of my brothers and sisters in the human family have too. 

A video about Pete Frates who inspired the whole thing is a must see.  A blog piece about “What an ALS Family REALLY Thinks About the Ice Bucket Challenge” helped me get an idea of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone with ALS.  So go ahead and scoff, but I want to thank all the people who are doing this craziness because awareness is being raised and money to find a cure is gushing in to ALSA.
What does this mean for your congregation?  Please know that I am not a big fan of endless fundraisers in the church.  It’s just not a good or sustainable model.  But you can look at the basics of the Ice Bucket Challenge and determine how you can apply the psychology of motivating people to your own setting:

  • There is a challenge.  Not a monetary challenge mind you – though that has been the ultimate benefit.  The challenge itself is not dangerous, it does require a little planning, and it’s ultimately fun and funny.  Find a challenge that fits you and your congregation and see what happens.
  • You get to challenge others.  With the ice bucket challenge, if you get challenged, you are then given permission to challenge someone else to either get the ice bucket treatment and/or send in money.  People love getting their friends to do nutty things for a good cause – your congregation is no exception.
  • People film themselves.  Like it or not, people like to see themselves in the movies and show it off to others.  Believe me, it’s not just teenagers taking the challenge.  How about filming people in ministry and showing it during church?
  • There is joy.  Beth Kanter said on NPR with so many sad things going on in the world, this has given people the opportunity to feel like they can make a difference. And while this disease is no laughing matter – if it’s raising awareness and money – go ahead and laugh hysterically.  Are people in your congregation happy as clams when they give?  They should be.

So dump a bucket of ice on your head and challenge everyone you know to learn about ALS and to donate money.  And then get creative and have some fun raising money for ministries that are near and dear to your congregation’s heart.  It’ll be a win-win.
Update from last week:  Lisa Jean Hoefner brought to my attention free resources from United Methodist Communications that can be put into giving statements.  Other denominations, no doubt, have similar resources available. 
P.S.  The will be no “Inspiring Generosity” next week.  Off on a family vacation to Yellowstone!  Here’s hoping we’re still speaking to one another at the end of the week and that the bears don’t eat us.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012.  She's not sure about dumping a bucket of ice water on her head, though she is happy to write a check.  Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.

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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.