Spotlight on Strategy: What Your Business Can Learn from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge


Chances are, when you hear the words “ice bucket challenge” the first thing that comes to mind is ALS. ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gherig’s disease, affects the central nervous system and causes dysfunction in muscle movement. It’s chronic and there is no cure, but it wasn’t a disease that ranked high in public awareness. That is until two years ago when a fun ice challenge met the power of social media and one of the most effective viral campaigns of all time sprang to life.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Ice Bucket Challenge consisted of pouring a bucket of ice water over one’s head in the name of ALS awareness. Along with the stunt, came the challenge of also donating to the cause. Over the course of the campaign, which ran from June 1 – August 17, 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge generated over 2.3 million YouTube videos, 28 million Facebook conversations and raised USD $115 million for ALS research – 40 times the amount raised the previous year.

So how did a campaign that originally came about as a way of supporting a friend, end up changing the face of charity involvement in the modern age? And what lessons in strategy can your business take from its success?


The Ice Bucket Challenge did two things very right: 1) it encouraged people to dump ice over their heads during the hottest part of the year, and 2) once challenged, the participant only had 24 hours to react. That one-day window was a reasonable amount of time for action, and the fact that social media helped spread the word made it even better – once challenged, everyone else knew who complied and how didn’t.

Today’s businesses can take a cue from the Ice Bucket Challenge’s sense of urgency. Too often strategic initiatives languish on a spreadsheet or stay tucked away in a boardroom somewhere, with no real indication to timing or relevancy. Strategy should be created with the calendar in mind; understanding when certain initiatives have the greatest chance of success, and encouraging a timeline for completion, makes it easier to measure efficacy and results.


In order to engage and motivate the ‘troops’ it’s vital they have an understanding for what they are doing. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, participants were encouraged to research ALS, and many of them did. It tugged on the heartstrings and rallied grassroots support. In addition, the campaign played upon the viral idea of #fomo – fear of missing out. When you can join with celebrities, athletes, your friends and even the President of the United States, suddenly there is an excitement to dump ice over your head and share in the camaraderie.

The same principles apply in your business. When employees understand the purpose and the larger meaning behind the company’s strategy, it is much easier for them to engage and play a willing part. When strategy is well communicated, all employees can feel a part of the team and a kinship is born that results in better strategic success.


One of the most refreshing things about the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it wasn’t created with the goal of becoming a huge viral hit, nor was there an expectation of significant fundraising. The idea was simply to rally a community to support a neighbor and friend. Yet by focusing on that initial goal, success grew organically.

For your business, goal setting is critical. While moonshot expectations are always worth striving for, it is vital to never lose sight of the initiative at hand. When a goal is well defined and understood, it can be achieved to much greater success.

If your organization’s strategy is created with the right expectations, using a reasonable timeline and encouraging company-wide participation, you can more easily plan, manage and execute your vision. No bucket of ice required.