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Monday, August 18, 2014

Have You Taken the #ALSIceBucketChallenge?

Unless you don’t use social media or you’ve taken a vacation from social media this summer, then you’ve probably seen a photo or video of a friend or celebrity being doused in icy cold water in the name of charity. What is this all about? Well, the premise is simple. If someone nominates you, then you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice water over your head or you must make a donation to an ALS related charity (of which Charity Navigator rates many).
Photo Credig: slgckgc

Not everyone is just having fun with this social media phenomenon. It appears some are actually donating to ALS charities. In fact, the ALS Association and its chapters say they have received $4 million in donations compared with just $1.2 million during the same period last year. And it says that it has picked up >70,000 new donors. That's music to the ears of people living with this insidious disease that has no cure!

While there is no disputing that this campaign has raised awareness and funding, there are some concerns about it.

  • In TIME, Jacob Davidson, whose father died from ALS, takes issue with the way the campaign is crafted. He says the campaign asks, “’Want to help fight this disease? No? Well, then you better dump some cold water on your head.’ The challenge even seems to be suggesting that being cold, wet, and uncomfortable is preferable to fighting ALS.” So he suggests that instead “maybe people could dump ice water on friends who haven’t donated as goofy way of encouraging others to give, or dump water on themselves before promising to donate.”
  • Project ALS told the Washington Post that the average donation per person is lower than it typically receives and wonders how many donors will maintain interest (and support) in the charity once the fad fades.
  • Slate’s Will Oremus wonders how much awareness this campaign has actually raised. He says “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.” He goes on to encourage people to (1) skip the whole challenge (2) support a charity of their choosing and then (3) suggest your friends and family do the same. At Charity Navigator, we would clarify that by encouraging people to support a charity of their choosing that they’ve taken the time to research to ensure it is worth their donation.
  • Our very own Ken Berger pointed out on Airtalk Radio that he’s concerned that this is just a “flash in the ice bucket” and “that [the campaign]  doesn’t have long-lasting memory [and that] it doesn’t really educate most people to the issue.” He said the biggest concern he has with these types of viral, flashy campaigns is that donors are giving based on an emotion and on an impulse. He notes that many aren’t taking the time to determine if “this charity is truly effective” and if “it meets its mission in a measurable way.”
As Mr. Berger notes, our main concern at Charity Navigator with such gimmicky fundraising appeals is that they perpetuate the lack of discussion around what should be the core issue – the charity’s impact and thus true worthiness of support. Thankfully, at least some of the donors are listening to Ken Berger and are taking the time to do their homework as evident by the 16,000 pageviews the ALS Association’s page on our site (the main charity behind this challenge) has received in the first 17 days of the month. That’s a >8,500% increase in page views compared to the same period of time last year.  And the good news for those checking our site is that the charity does have our highest 4-star rating! 

But that doesn’t negate our concern about the next fundraising fad. Will it be a high-performing charity or a bad apple? Unless donors take the time to do their research, we will continue to run the risk that a ‘cool campaign’ will divert funding from those charities that are really making a difference in the world to one that simply is good at promotion.

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