The most recent fad on social media is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At first glance it seems like a fun way to raise awareness and donate money to charity. And it is. Mostly.
As a general rule I tend to not like social media fads; they make me feel like a heard animal and reek of narcissism. This sort of challenge lends itself perfectly to self-licensing. The original “rules” of the challenge say dump a bucket of ice water over your head OR donate to charity. This means a person can make themselves FEEL good and get positive feedback from their peers without actually doing anything of significant value. According to the self-licensing phenomenon someone who feels like they have done good is more likely to engage in unethical behaviour in the future.
In this article by William MacAskill he claims that people only give so much to charity and that this type of viral challenge is actually taking money away from other charities. While I really don’t have enough information to determine how much truth there is to that, from my years working in the non-profit field I can tell you that many people do have a donation limit and once it’s spent they will not donate any more.
My two biggest questions about the Ice Bucket Challenge though are: is it actually raising any awareness and how will the money be spent? Any charity will tell you that monthly or annual donors are by FAR more valuable that one time donors. However, you are unlikely to get these types of donors unless they are very aware of what the charity is raising money for. I’ve seen some posts about how the cold water is supposed to mimic nerve numbness and I’ve seen the odd person actually do some research into ALS, but I don’t think that is the norm. How does dumping a bucket of ice water on your head make you any more aware of what ALS is and what the charities are fundraising for? And on that note, how is the money going to be spent? I hate to say it, but many charities just are not very efficient or effective with the money they raise. Before I donate to any charity I like to know exactly how my money is going to be spent and how much of it is going to the cause and how much will end up in administration. While there are many good charities out there I personally like to give my money to the organizations where it will do the most good for the most people and not to participate in a social media craze. However, Charity Navigator gives most of the ALS charities a good rating so hopefully the money raised from this craze will be put to good use.
At the end of the day though the problem with fads is that they die out and I’d like to see a charity fundraiser that focuses more on the cause and less on the donor.