It was genius. No question about that. So much so that millions of people–thousands of whom previously thought ALS was plural for everyone*–have been pouring buckets of ice water on their heads grinning like they were the winning Super Bowl coach.

Zero overheard. Zero advertising dollars. One hundred million in donations. And world-wide awareness by a base so diverse that it includes Dave Ramsey, Matt Damon, and, probably, you.

They didn’t peddle the need. They didn’t peddle their vision. They didn’t make a movie that put us all in tears. They didn’t even make it as simple as pushing a button to give.

Instead, They came up with a mildly cruel form of torture. Then they encouraged friends to torture each other. And people loved it. Evidently.

Despite the nay-sayers and the water-wasting Sheriffs, I’ll just be honest. I wish I thought of it.

Think about it…$100 million dollars. How many muffins would you have to sell to raise that? How many silent auctions would you need to hold? How many garage sales raise like one one millionth of that number? It was pure genius.

By contrast, a few months ago, I was driving to church and I saw a handful of ladies sitting behind a table on a sunny lawn. It was a terrible location for a sale of any kind and their sign didn’t do much to paint a compelling picture. It was a pity stop, but I bought a watery cup of powdered lemonade. I asked the ladies what they were raising money for and they said this was part of an effort to teach their kids to work. I bought another cup of lemonade and a brownie because I believed in their goal. Still, I would be surprised if my $2 went far toward them recouping their costs of lemonade powder and brownie mix. A noble effort, But not pure genius.

Sometimes, even “hard work” gets us no where. A lot of good ideas go bust. And a lot of genius ideas produce mediocre results.

In fact, did you know that that they ALS Association also did the ice bucket challenge last year? Me neither. And it wasn’t like ALS actually originated the idea–I guess there’s some controversy over that–but the point is, it didn’t really work.

And then, it did. Beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

So… they tried to trademark the idea. Which you can’t really do, but it is possible to trademark a phrase and they tried. According to their statement, they wanted to prevent “unscrupulous charities” for taking “their idea.” But perhaps it sunk into them that they hay day for ice buckets is going to be over soon and, anyway, their fair-weather fan base didn’t seem to appreciate their attempts. Regardless, they have withdrawn their trademark applications and Americans are free to freeze their brains for any cause they choose.

With all due respect to ALS and without grudging their fundraising success, there are some other great causes out there including Remember, which adopted its own twist on the ice bucket challenge. Remember supports persecuted Christians around the world and the whole cold-water-over-the-head thing seemed appropriate keeping in mind some of the Chinese Christians we met who started taking cold showers and sleeping on the hard floor after their conversions so they could start training for inevitable prison stays. I’m sure cold showers and floor sleeping would appeal to many ice bucketeers, but, alas, they are harder to video tape.

Personally, after spending seven or so weeks in remote corners of South East Asia during rainy season, I’m thinking it might be appropriate to do a mud bucket challenge. Or a mud soccer game challenge. Or just a mud sink challenge (it is just what it sounds like). Hmmm…I’ll keep chewing on it. Surely at some point I’ll come up with something.

In the meantime, if you light upon the next fundraising stroke of genius, will you call me first? I’ll give you all the credit, I promise. It doesn’t even have to be a $100 million dollar idea. I’d be content with like, millions, less than that. It just has to work. And you’d have the fun of joy of knowing you lit upon the second most genius fundraising scheme in all of history.

See, no pressure. I’m easy to please.

For this next fundraising challenge, I nominate Paul Walker, Daniel Bostic, and Amber Sommerville.


*ALS: yes, southerners are known to use phrases like ya’ll. Some people find it necessary to pluralize their plurals with “all y’all.” Some people shorten it to “yalls” or just “alls.” And some people just can’t spell.

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