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In fundraising trenches

There are people around the world who cannot even say Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, don’t really know what it means (and perhaps don’t even care that they don’t), who are posting online videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads.

And then challenging others to do the same. Or pay a donation to the ALS Association in the United States.

A lot of these people are doing both — dumping the ice water and sending a donation. The Ice Bucket Challenge is the fundraising phenomenon of the year, an example showing the potential growth of an idea in our online world.

This is the kind of thing the prophets of social media said would happen when people use their online connectivity in an out-of-the-box way.

The box may have a short shelf life but like a virus, it’s extremely powerful.

As of this week, fundraising to the ALS Association topped $88.5 million. In the past week, they had a $10-million day. Last year, before the Ice age, their total fundraising was about $2.2 million.

Since friends of former college baseball team captain Pete Frates apparently sparked the phenomenon this summer, “explosive” hardly describes its growth.

A-list celebrities got involved, supermarket stores sold out of ice, and spinoffs spun off. In Gaza, people douse themselves with buckets of rubble, to support victims of bomb attacks. In India, ice is too precious, so people give a bucket of rice to a poor family instead. In Florida, an actor dumped a bucket of bullet casings over his head to protest senseless gun violence.

And the ALS Association has the makings of a permanent foundation to fund research into an incurable neurological disease that slowly strips people of their ability to make their muscles move.

All of which is fantastic.

Meanwhile, down inside the box, the grunt work of non-profit fundraising carries on.

I’m just winding down from completing another year as a committee member for an annual fundraiser for a couple of local non-profits. It’s been six years now for the fundraiser bike ride that has become the Berry Architecture Wellness Ride, thanks to a naming sponsorship from an enthusiastic local business.

Before that, we sold raffle tickets for a cruise, sold cash calendars, held silent auctions, organized a road rally treasure hunt. Anything we could think of.

Forget a phenomenon like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here’s how a fundraiser works:

Our event is in August. It’s a one-day event, but we begin the planning and organization in February. For some larger annual events, the planning and organization stage begins almost immediately after each event is completed.

You contact businesses and supporters for grants. Every agency that does this has a contact list and everyone’s list obviously overlaps.

You secure your venues, get your licences (for an organized bike ride, you need permission from Alberta Transportation to use the road). This can take months of calls and applications.

You line up a celebrity attraction, if you can.

You set up your registration system, shop for supplies and — most important — line up volunteers.

The goal is to give your participants the best possible experience. They’re the ones out there gathering their own sponsorships, from people and businesses that you don’t know.

And then you rally your volunteers to make the event day run smoothly.

And then you do it again.

This is life for people supporting hundreds of local non-profits, which make your city livable for tens of thousands of your neighbours who can’t make it on their own, or for whom there isn’t enough (or any) government support.

Thank goodness for volunteers, in a city of volunteers in a province that has the highest rate of volunteerism in the country.

Collectively, this work comprises Red Deer’s biggest industry. By far.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been called “slacktivism.” You really don’t have to do anything. You really don’t have to care about anything. You join a flash mob, post a video, send a donation (maybe) and feel good about yourself.

That’s great. It really is. I hope the money finds a cure for ALS.

But every day of the year, one committee or another in Red Deer is holding another meeting, reporting on progress of who did what job, or looking for the next big idea that will get people behind their cause.

Caring is a full-time job. And there are more people doing that job than you may imagine. Joining them takes more than being willing to dump ice water on your head while someone records it on a cellphone.

Can you take that step yourself?

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email

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