Three Holes in the Ice Bucket Challenge Critique

Cache #168

“It’s not right that ALS is raking in so much money.”

In reaction to the astonishing fundraising success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, this is essentially the point of view espoused by a small but significant number of people in the media, general public and other fundraising organizations.

Definition of astonishing:  the ALS Association reports its receipt of US $41-million in donations between July 29 and August 21, (more than double the amount for the entire previous year) from 740,000 net new donors.  Almost overnight, ALS has become perhaps the biggest public awareness story of the Internet age.

But Maclean’s Magazine calls it “a horrible way” to raise money.  The Boston Globe calls it a “gimmick” that uses “guilt” and “threats” to raise cash, and that it’s the type of dare that “bring[s] out the worst in people.”

Many other organizations and individuals have weighed in with their critiques.  Here’s why they’re wrong in ways that will hurt every charity and limit the potential of people and companies around the world.

The undoubtedly well-intentioned but ultimately troubling position of Maclean’s guest columnist Scott Gilmore (founder of Building Markets) is instructive.  In “Why The Ice Bucket Challenge is Bad For You,” he maintains that we need to consider these three “tests” – all of which ALS fails, in his opinion – when donating money:

1.Where is the greatest need?
2.Where will my dollars have the greatest influence?
3.What is the most urgent problem?

With respect to #1, Gilmore says that ALS is not “an especially great need,” since it is classified as a rare disease and only 600 Canadians die of it each year, which is “not even close” to the top 20 most fatal diseases in Canada.

Regarding #2, he says ALS is “already extremely well funded,” and “If you want your donation to make the biggest difference, fund the diseases that need the most money.”

On the matter of point #3, he maintains that “ALS is not an urgent need” and that “if you want to help where time is of the essence,” then consider Syria or Ebola, for instance.

Three issues with these criteria:
1.Imagine (or maybe you don’t need to) that you or a loved one has ALS or another disease that doesn’t meet Gilmore’s cut.  Your obligation is clear: don’t give a dime to ALS, but rather, scan the news or the latest statistics and send your money somewhere else.  Your friend/wife/daughter/grandfather, or you yourself, will toast your logic.

2.The criteria make the defeatist assumption that fundraising is a zero-sum game, a proposition that the Ice Bucket Challenge itself has smashed to smithereens.  By finding 740,000 new donors (and counting) from every walk of life, the Challenge has proven that the pool of fundraising dollars is far from finite.

3.Instead of lamenting dollars they’ve “lost” to someone else, charitable organizations should recognize this as the most optimistic moment in the history of fundraising, powered as it is by the branding tool of remark-ability.

For organizations of any type, therein lies the true challenge should they dare to accept it:  how to be word-of-mouth worthy, supercharged by the Internet’s unique power to bask humans in the cheers, support, thanks and approval of others?

How did the Ice Bucket Challenge get started?  Here is the story in the New York Times.


Recent comment in the National Post:  “Birks and Tiffany & Co: Battle of the Blue Jewelry Boxes.”

Book:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo or download a free chapter.
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