I’m sure you’ve heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge. More and more people are doing it – film you or a friend dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, post it online, make a donation to charity, and nominate some other people to do the same.
In the UK social media circles – due to a shift that probably happened in the US where this is a better-known disease perhaps because of Lou Gehrig, the famous baseball player who suffered – it seems the most common cause to donate to is for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research charities. ALS is a form of MND; a degenerative disease that leads to muscle degradation, paralysis and eventual suffocation. Our famous sufferer is Stephen Hawking.
The Wellcome Trust did a great video explaining the condition, for those who’d like to learn more:
A wonderful friend from university whom I have seen far too little of in recent years decided to nominate me yesterday as he took the challenge. Having done the right thing and made a cup of tea ready for the aftermath, he decided to donate to Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. I’m sorry I haven’t been “a good sport” as he put it and made my own video, but you can watch his and, if you like, read on for some more thoughts on the phenomenon and my explanation of why I’ve decided to donate and write this instead.
“I’m donating towards the Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund via GlobalGiving. One good turn deserves another so Kevin, Orr, and Marianne (because I’ve enjoyed her Facebook ruminations on this topic and I know she’ll be a good sport) get your ice and buckets and don’t forget to donate.”
All for one or..?
Despite the shift in focus to ALS, as the wikipedia page for IBC explains, the origins of the challenge are fuzzy, and it doesn’t appear to have been started by ALS charities specifically; people have donated to a range of causes for it. It’s often said that the point of the ice water is to, if only briefly, mimic some of the pain ALS sufferers experience. But cancer research and firefighting also seem to have been origin-causes. Macmillan are raising money through the challenge too – without them, my dad’s end of life care would have been even more difficult, so if the Ebola fund isn’t your thing, maybe send some cash their way.
As I said in a previous post about the similar viral fundraising campaign, No Make-up Selfie, it’s important to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, give people a) the means to donate and b) find out more information about the cause you’ve chosen to support. Otherwise it really just seems like an attention-seeking exercise, with the added bonus of some money going to charity, which is great.
So why haven’t I made a video? Sorry. I don’t like videos of me – there’s only one that I know of. I like writing stuff – as you can see – I love talking to people on social media, sharing things I find interesting, having rants about what annoys me (quite a lot of stuff). But I’m not particularly attention-seeking in terms of people-staring-at-me. I know I’m not alone in that – some friends have said they too would find a nomination mortifying or otherwise uncomfortable. It could be an introvert’s nightmare.
People have different kinds of personalities, enjoy different things, struggle with different aspects of social interactions (or sometimes none at all). Those things manifest in different ways. This kind of challenge just doesn’t suit everyone, so I’m all for offering up alternatives.
This is mine – have a look at the issue in a wider context, send some money anyway, but in a less showy fashion. That’s not to say this way is better, that the videos are wrong – just different.
Not personally, you understand – I’m doing my own Charity Challenge next month, walking 25km on the Thames Path Challenge, for Barts Cancer Institute. There’s a little team of us, so you can pick your favourite on our BT Donate page (me, I hope, given you’re here).
If you’re wondering about the hat, follow the link on our team page, Arrow to the Knee.
Blah blah blah
As I said, I ramble about things online, so I suppose this started when I posted the following (ish):
– Donating to charities that don’t get much attention is good
– People are always going to be vain and irritating, especially online/in media generally; if that turns into a way to make money for charity occasionally, bonus.
– If you don’t want to watch them, don’t.
– If the self-congratulatory aspect annoys you, just donate quietly – as you may already do.
– Complaining loudly about it makes you as bad – if not worse. Unless you’re sending a donation with your complaint. But then what was the point of complaining in the first place?
– Go to learn about ALS/MND on Wikipedia for a bit. It’s what Stephen Hawking has, and he’s amazingly old considering. It’s a really difficult-to-research condition. Tack it onto your complaints if you feel information is lacking somewhere, or link to a charity.
– It doesn’t necessarily mean people are donating less/other charities are worse off. That’s not how it works.*
– It’s a bit like no makeup selfie, which I wrote a long thing about. Similar questions can be asked. Curiosity about how this kind of fundraising is good; critiques can be useful. Pretending you’re so much better [not so much].
*This is something I seem to be wrong about, more on that in a bit.
Edit: our Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia has some stats that are mildly encouraging
This word, ironically, gets a lot of criticism. I don’t think it’s as bad as all that – it’s a means of pushing for improvement. Without criticism, how can we improve? It’s not just about being negative, although identifying where things could be done better is a big part of a critique, it’s not the only aspect. Making note of what does work is also necessary.
It also doesn’t mean that, just because you have offered up criticism, you are “a heartless bastard”, as a friend put it. Are we all so sheltered as to think everything we do is beyond reproach, or so arrogant to think we’re already doing everything right?? Critical thinking isn’t just about deciding everything is rubbish, it’s about analysis, evidence, common sense, digging for truths and betterment.
I’m not usually one for dictionary definitions, but while a common use of the word is “expressing disapproval”, it’s also about “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults” – while this is usually applied to the arts, it needn’t be its sole preserve. Should we not be considerate and critical of most things we do?
A huge, sprawling topic I won’t get too deep into here – I just want to return to the *people are donating less/other charities are worse off aspect. It’s most people’s gut feeling that simply stepping up to a random challenge wouldn’t change people’s donation behaviours, or that a successful campaign for one charity would negatively affect others.
But, it seems that is in fact the case. Is charity giving really a zero-sum game? I can’t say with conviction here, but it seems at least in the US where donations have apparently been fairly static in recent years, that it is more a case of charities fighting it out amongst each other for their shares of that restricted pool than simply coming up with new ideas to add revenue to their available budget.
In reality I’m sure it’s a bit of both, and if you have access to some enlightening research on the subject, please do link in the comments. The “problem of forgotten emergencies” is similar and perhaps sheds some light on this. The UK does well at giving to charity, and I expect the nuts and bolts of inter-charity competition differs somewhat depending on which country you look at – and whether you’re interrogating individuals, corporations or other revenue sources.
Charities need money in order to function (government funding of research being a related issue). They need to ask people for money but people don’t like being asked for money. So “raising awareness” and other slight misdirections are more fashionable now – plus, with the increasingly popular phenomenon of social media permeating our lives, of course it’s an avenue to explore. And it’s not going to be perfect the first time.
Charities didn’t seem to have started this, really. At least it’s not a campaign masterminded and owned by any one in particular. If it were, we could hold it to higher standards, but I think we need to make the best of it – while being open to criticism.
Holier Than Thou
I suppose what made me notice the complaints was the context some of them came in. Ridiculous meme-like photos juxtaposing happy-looking Americans throwing water on themselves with a child living in poverty being fed water from a rusty cup. I don’t find this kind of complaint useful.
People in developed countries are better off than people unlucky enough to be living in developing countries. Some developing countries have water shortages (the whole of Africa, however, does not) – throwing water on yourself in a developed country doesn’ t make you an awful person. It makes you privileged, and we’d do well to be mindful and somewhat grateful for that sometimes.
Other people having bigger problems does not negate all of our own, and we cannot be mindful of every single problem all of the time; it’s impossible. You can just stand up for causes you care about and believe in and do your best not to be apathetic about everything.
If you criticised someone for doing this challenge when “there’re droughts in some states/Africa!” then I hope you are a regular supporter of Water Aid. If not, you really can’t use this line of attack. Not using water frivolously in one country does not mean that water will be shipped somewhere it is needed; that is not how water provision works, and probably where I put a foot wrong in shifting that argument over to the cash flow issue without thinking it through.
Send some money where you think it’s needed. You might already be doing that – great! You might want to throw ice or coffee or baked beans on yourself. You might want to run a 5k or sign up to a challenge next year. I don’t mind – just remember to check your charities are “legit”.
Charities mentioned in this post:
- The MND Association – http://www.mndassociation.org/
- The Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund – https://www.globalgiving.co.uk/projects/ebola-epidemic-relief-fund/
- Macmillan Cancer Support – http://www.macmillan.org.uk/
- Barts Cancer Institute Thames Path Challenge, Arrow To The Knee team – https://mydonate.bt.com/teams/arrowtotheknee
- BCI Donations – http://www.bci.qmul.ac.uk/public-engagement/support-donations#donations
- Water Aid – https://www.wateraid.org/uk/get-involved/donate
- Yahoo, Natasha Bird: Challenging the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – the problem with mega-donations
- Independent: ALS ice bucket challenge: Over half of Brits polled did not donate to charity afterwards
- Quartz: “The cold, hard truth about the ice bucket challenge”