August 17, 2019

Don’t Dump on #IcebucketChallenge

As someone who is a consultant, volunteer, donor and recipient in the world of non-profits, I am thrilled to witness the incredible, and unplanned success of the Ice Bucket Challenge in raising new dollars for the ALS Association (ALSA) in its mission to end ALS, a devastating and terminal disease.

Just in case you’ve been off the grid for the summer, the viral #Ice Bucket Challenge has enticed thousands of people, mostly younger folks who look good in bathing suits or shorts, to dunk themselves with ice water while being videotaped for later sharing on social media.  While shivering in their after-dunk glory, participants then challenge three or more friends to do the same, with the option of donating money instead of the frigid splash. Many people are both dunking and contributing money.

Although some of the Ice Bucket Challenge participants are requesting donations for their own favorite charitable causes, the majority of the money is going to ALSA, which at this writing, has received a whooping $88.5 million to fulfill its mission of providing care services to assist people with ALS and their families and a global research program focused on the discovery of treatments and eventually a cure for the disease.

And with that amount of money come the critics:

Critique #1: Concerns are being voiced that this huge amount of money shouldn’t be going to a disease-specific charity, which Felix Salmon at Slate describes as “very odd, and peculiarly ineffective, way of spending your philanthropic dollar—especially when your donation is a one-off thing.” As someone who has worked for two disease-specific groups (Alzheimer’s and Diabetes), I would have to counter that for those impacted by a disease, including extended family, friends and co-workers, donating to a disease-specific group can be very emotionally rewarding, most particularly when a loved one has died from the disease. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be enough resources to fund all the government and privately-funded research without having to raise money one disease at a time, but we have to work with what we got, and for now, philanthropic dollars focused on specific diseases are crucial to finding better treatments and cures.

Critique #2: Spending 30 minutes setting up, filming and uploading your #icebucketchallenge video has been derided as “slactivism” — a combination of “slacker” and “activism” — by some critics. These critics view the organically grown campaign as a convenient, charitable excuse for mostly younger people to engage in vain and self-centered behavior. To which I say, so what? Most people who give money or volunteer their time to charities like to be publicly recognized in some manner. I know I do. There’s a good reason there are donor boards at every hospital, religious institution and museum. Very few of us choose to give our money away anonymously.

Critique #3: Are donors to #icebucketchallenge investing in a cause they truly believe in and fully understand? Isn’t this whole approach too shallow? Will Oremus at Slate slammed the campaign for not really being about ALS: “As for 'raising awareness,' few of the videos I’ve seen contain any substantive information about the disease, why the money is needed, or how it will be used.” Sorry, Mr. Oremus, but you are over-intellectualizing this campaign. All the social media postings and traditional media attention can’t help but raise the level of awareness of this disease, and many of the social media posts I’ve seen do touch on a personal connection with ALS, or the fact that there’s no cure for this terminal disease which destroys the body while keeping the mind intact.

Critique #4: In Southern California, there is the issue that dumping water can contribute to our drought. The easiest way to solve this problem is to use recycled water or dump the water over your lawn, or even better, drought-resistant shrubbery. You could even follow Matt Damon’s lead and use toilet water, which he did to highlight his charitable commitment to Water.org. (Damon was reported on Huffington Post to say that “Toilet water in westernized nations is still cleaner than the drinking water in many underserved communities in developing countries.”)

My bottom-line is this: getting 1.9 million new donors to give money to an important and needed cause is a good thing, a very good thing. The Ice Bucket Challenge has shown non-profit professionals that donors, especially the much coveted next generation of donors in their 20s and 30s, want to get actively involved with charitable work, will support a worthy cause with their pocketbooks and most importantly, aren’t afraid to ask their friends to do the same.

So critics, please recognize all the positives flowing from the Ice Bucket Challenge and throw in the towel!