Margaret Rosano had the telltale signs.
Hair, soaking wet. Shivering. A broad smile, despite the rush of ice cubes showering her head.
Rosano, of course, had just completed the Ice Bucket Challenge. She did it for her cousin, a mom of a 4-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed at 33 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Rosano, a Northwest Community Hospital nurse, knows there are no ALS survivors. She also knows the disease, affecting about 30,000 Americans, hasn't always attracted a lot of attention or research dollars.
"It's not incurable," she said. "It's underfunded."
The Ice Bucket Challenge could change all that. How has to do with a compelling back story (although there have been several versions), simple rules and a rapid-fire leap from social to mainstream media.
Here's how the challenge works: Dump a bucket of ice water on your head, post a video of it on social media and challenge three friends to do the same. They have 24 hours to accept -- or they have to donate to groups like the ALS Association.
Closer to home, about 50 Six Flags Great America employees waded into the theme park's reflecting pool Monday and unloaded blue buckets of ice water over their heads. They shrieked, shook and laughed as the water hit them. Then they ran for towels.
"That's a wake-up on a Monday morning," marketing director John Krajnak said as he dried off.
Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz completed the Ice Bucket Challenge outside city hall Monday evening, doused with eight buckets of water by city aldermen and staffers.
But before he got the ice dumped on him, Bogusz on camera for the media challenged other suburban leaders to follow suit, naming the mayors of Mount Prospect, Wheeling, Prospect Heights, Park Ridge and Niles, and two Des Plaines-area state lawmakers. Later at the city council meeting he encouraged Des Plaines residents to also challenge those leaders by emailing and Facebooking them.
Last week, Rosano joined dozens of colleagues and Northwest Community Hospital CEO Stephen Scogna for a simultaneous dousing in Arlington Heights.
"Let's make ALS history," Rosano said.
The challenge is much more than a chilly stunt to show off on Facebook. The ALS Association has received $15.6 million in donations since July 29, compared to $1.8 million over the same period last year. The number of new donors stands at 307,598.
"We have never before experienced this level of visibility across the nation," said Julie Sharpe, executive director of the association's Greater Chicago chapter.
With a full-time staff of five, the chapter has struggled to raise the profile of a disease often misunderstood as treatable. Although many videos don't explain the disease's toll, the challenge gives the association a platform to build ties with new donors, Sharpe said.
"It's just really given us an unbelievable opportunity to continue to communicate and inform," she said.
Groups with less national exposure have gained, too. The Les Turner ALS Foundation in Skokie has seen donations skyrocket more than 3,000 percent in the first two weeks of August compared to the same time last year.
The ALS Association traces the challenge to Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who lost his voice and movement in his arms and legs to ALS. In late July, Frates dared some friends to do the #Icebucketchallenge in a Facebook video set to the song "Ice Ice Baby."
Before that, pro golfers challenged each other to pour buckets of ice on their heads or donate to a favorite charity.
Nonprofit groups have long tried to pair innovative stunts with fundraising. Think shaving your head and collecting pledges for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
The challenge's formula, though, taps into a sense of community on social media that brings more attention to giving (those frosty daredevils often donate, too), says Julie Stogsdill, capacity building program director for DonorPath, a Chicago firm that connects fundraising consultants with nonprofits.
"This is a way people can feel connected to something," she said.
And when trusted peers in your social network ask you to support a cause, "it's hard to say 'no,'" said Laura Brown, Harper College's chief advancement officer.
Such campaigns rarely reach the visibility and scope as quickly as the Ice Bucket Challenge, says Liz Livingston Howard, the director of nonprofit executive education at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
"How do you capture people's attention? In this case, the gimmick of the ice bucket challenge gets people to say, 'That's cool. Why on earth are they doing that?'" Howard said. "You create a dialogue that gets people to ask questions."
Frates' connections to pro athletes who took up the ice dumping also elevated the challenge, Howard said.
"What it highlights is the importance of people who have the passion to rally their friends and supporters," Howard said. "Frankly, the power of an individual can really make a difference."
• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.