Ice Bucket List This

Bill Gates did it, and so did George W. Bush. Countless celebrities and wannabes took it up, along with some who are genuinely devoted to the cause. I’m talking about this past summer’s viral phenomenon, the Ice Bucket Challenge to fight ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the Wall Street Journal, between June and mid-August, 2.4 million videos of people dumping ice water over their heads were posted on Facebook and that generated 4.2 million tweets. By mid-September, the ALS Association reported the challenge raised in excess of an extra $114 million, and the increase in public awareness was stunning. The organization says that prior to the challenge only half of Americans had heard of the disease.

It’s a tough act for other charities to follow. The organization I am involved with, Pancreatic Cancer Canada, understands this problem well. It is the most lethal form of the disease and the most underfunded. With a survival rate of only six per cent, there are few survivors to take up advocacy. Organizers from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Holland have teamed up to promote the first World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day on Nov. 13. At press time, the task of crystallizing the “main messaging” was still in the hands of an advertising agency. “The common themes are little hope, little support and little awareness,” said Laurie Ellies, PCC’s executive director, after a conference call with her international colleagues. Talk about throwing cold water – hardly the stuff of a positive, inspirational campaign, let alone a fun, pop culture sensation.

This fall, another big fundraiser came to Canada. Stand Up To Cancer (S↑2C) is a U.S. entertainment industry initiative that has raised more than $250 million in six years to fund so-called cancer research dream teams. This year’s show brought together dozens of A-list Hollywood types in a one-hour special from Los Angeles, broadcast simultaneously on rival networks. It started with a hysterical sendup of an Olympic-style torch relay featuring pudgy comedians proclaiming the hour where “the great people of the United States and the extremely polite people of Canada join together…” A technical glitch (when the satellite was struck by lightning) scuttled the live cutaways to a parallel event in Toronto, to be fronted by Ben Stiller. Still, the Canadian research partners, who all invested funds, are happy with the results. Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, became a believer after following the progress of the fundraiser’s American partners. “I saw what they were doing in terms of not only promoting the best science, but also raising more money and awareness of their specific areas, and I thought it was something we were not doing in Canada,” he told me.

“The whole celebrity fundraising thing will continue to be around for a long time,” says Paul Alofs, president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, which raised a record $101 million this last fiscal year. He has never gone that route because “there is a trendiness to certain individuals, and we look for programs we can run long-term.” As for the ice bucket challenge, he describes it as “pure genius. It’s the one everyone in the non-profit world wishes they thought of.” Ditto for the moustache-growing Movember fundraiser, on this month to benefit men’s health.

These special events will have to be refreshed in order to continue to be successful. But Alofs believes the “shout-out” aspect of the Ice-Bucket Challenge is an innovation that will live on. That’s where participants challenge three other people to either douse themselves or donate money. Most people who were doused still donated. It’s the 21st-century social media incarnation of a very old fact – an ask from a friend or a family member is one of the biggest reasons to contribute to a worthy cause. So here is mine: on Nov. 13, please think about the 4,700 Canadians who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and the 4,300 who will die. And let’s consider what we can all do to change that dismal statistic.

Libby Znaimer ([email protected]) is VP of news on AM740 and Classical 96.3 FM (ZoomerMedia properties).

Zoomer magazine, November 2014

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