Every few months, I think about getting off of the social media grid – de-activating my Facebook, deleting my Twitter, and resigning from LinkedIn. Yet, every time, some last minute post, tweet, or update piques my curiosity, steering me away from my disconnected destiny. What was it this time? The viral phenomena of the chilly, and sometimes silly, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos.
For those of you living under a rock, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was started a few months ago and presents participants with one of two options: donate to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research or film a brief video of yourself being doused with ice water. If you choose the latter option, you are afforded the opportunity to nominate friends or family for this challenge and they are required to respond within twenty-four hours (with either a donation or video). The challenge is a hybrid between an awareness campaign and an appeal for donations.
According to the ALS Association, the challenge was started by a small group of individuals in the Boston area and has grown exponentially to include thousands of frosty followers. The supporters include a number of celebrities: Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart, hockey star Sidney Crosby, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, not to mention that a number of airline companies have gotten in on the fun as well. Additionally, there are countless small businesses, sports teams, and local politicians “chillin’ for charity.”
However, every movement has its critics and, not unexpectedly, the challenge has its detractors. Over at Jezebel, Kara Brown offered skepticism on the benefits of raising awareness for ALS, writing, “In this case, I’m not sure how raising awareness is actively helping people who suffer from ALS. Does pouring a bucket of ice water over your head get us any closer to finding a cure?” Going on to attack slacktivism, she closes: “Those Facebook likes aren’t really helping anyone” (Note: Brown’s article went on to get 6,900 Facebook likes, as of Sunday evening).
Other critics were not nearly as harsh. Brian M. Carney penned “Throwing a Little Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge” over in the Wall Street Journal about two weeks ago. Carney, however, merely raised the question regarding the effectiveness of the challenge’s approach: “Still, I wonder about the true nature of this ‘challenge.’ Do I prove something about myself by rising to it? Is it better to fill a bucket or write a check?”
And, of course, like everything else on the Internet, comment sections (particularly those of the anonymous fashion) have admonished the movement. Leaving one person to write, “I mean it seems a little silly to just dump water on yourself. I do that for free, on my own time.” I’ll remember not to extend a nomination to Uproxx commenter “Coked Up Jesus” anytime soon.
While some of the criticisms are merited – particularly those criticisms addressing those videos that neglect to mention ALS – the movement as a whole should be lauded as a creative fundraising and awareness challenge, benefiting a reputable organization. The ALS Association is committed to GuideStar’s transparency system and has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. With a $19 million revenue stream, the organization meets the strict standards of Navigator, with a three-star financial rating and four-star accountability and transparency rating (for comparison, the much larger Autism Speaks only garnered two stars on their financial rating).
Additionally, the challenge rightly balances awareness and fundraising. While many are opting to have ice poured on their heads, many others are (dry and) donating. According to AP:
The ALS Association's national president, Barbara Newhouse, said donations to the national office surged during the 10-day period that ended Thursday, to about $160,000, from $14,480 during the same period a year ago. That's not counting donations to chapter offices around the country, Newhouse said.
Despite the criticism levied by Jezebel, it appears the challenge is showing a surge of donations, thereby helping the bottom line.
Not to mention, awareness campaigns are effective in their own right. One friend of mine confessed, “I mean, I did have to Google ‘ALS.’” With more people understanding the difficulties faced by those with Lou Gehrig’s disease, it appears the multifaceted Ice Bucket Challenge is meeting its goals.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is creative and eye-catching. It raises money for a stand-up organization and it raises awareness for a serious disease. Instead of indicting the movement for its minor faults, it should be celebrated for its icy innovation, showing how nonprofit charities can adapt their message in an increasingly technologized world. The challenge’s critics should fill their buckets with ice, rather than propagate their polar-izing message.