The ice bucket challenge has taken off by storm, raising nearly $4 million for the ALS association.
The ice bucket challenge has taken off by storm, raising nearly $4 million for the ALS association. - 
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Non-profits might want to add a bucket of ice water to their fundraising tool kits after the success of the viral “ice bucket challenge.”

The campaign, which is plastering social media, is drawing in big donations for charities that deal with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS causes its victims’ muscles to stop functioning such that they eventually lose their ability to eat, speak walk and breathe.

Here’s how the" ice bucket challenge" works: dump a bucket of ice water over your head in support of ALS sufferers. Or donate money to an ALS organization. Or both. Then challenge someone else to do the same within 24 hours.

"Marketplace" host Kai Ryssdal takes part in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The national ALS association and its chapters have pulled in nearly $6 million in donations since late July, compared to just $1 million during the same period last year, as celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake join the throng of Americans accepting the "ice bucket challenge".

“I wish I could take credit for this incredible viral phenomenon. I'd be a PR genius if that was the case,” says ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk.

Instead, Munk credits a few individuals who themselves suffer from ALS with making the ice bucket challenge go viral. Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, is one of them. His father, John Frates, says his 29 year-old son got keyed into the challenge from a fellow ALS sufferer.

“It looked like it was just going to be for entertainment purposes around our family and friends. Then it morphed into hey, if you don't do this challenge, you better donate,” says Frates.

Sarah Durham, the president of Big Duck, a communications firm for non-profits, says other fundraising campaigns have had similar roots. Durham says Planned Parenthood appeared to benefit from an individual sending out an email that went viral a few years ago.

Durham says the charities that benefit from grassroots campaigns might scramble to catch up. “It can make it hard for non-profits because oftentimes they're reacting to something that's out there that they didn't get any lead time to plan for or prepare for,” she says.

But in fundraising, that's not a terrible problem to have.

Follow Annie Baxter at @anniebaxter123