Unless you have been living under a rock, or don’t have the internet, you will have noticed that a lot of celebrities and internet dwellers have been dousing themselves with ice cold water and posting a video of it to their various social media platforms. The Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the US and now the UK by storm, filling our newsfeeds with videos of our favourite celebrities pouring ice cold water on themselves and then nominating their celebrity friends to do the same.
This challenge is, in fact, for charity, supporting the ALS Association which raises money and awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. An illness that in the UK is referred to as Motor Neurone Disease; it affects the brain and the spinal cord.
So what do we think of this craze as a fundraising mechanism? Is it a self-promotional gimmick or an intelligent way to harness social media to raise awareness and vital funds? I will admit that the Challenge does sit slightly uncomfortably with me, but perhaps only due to my British sensibilities toward anonymous giving which is never going to lend itself to the Americanised way of being so publically charitable. There is also the question of whether this is just another way for celebrities to continue their narcissism by posting more videos of themselves, and whether or not they even donate. We can never find out whether they have or they haven’t but someone is certainly donating because so far, according to ALS Association’s update on Monday 18th August, the charity has received $15.6 million (approx. £9.4m) in donations from existing and 307,598 new donors. 
If this is the result of said narcissism then brilliant. When questions are asked such as, ‘how does pouring water over your head cure a disease?’ the answer is, it doesn’t. But it can direct people to the ALS website and to donate which, in turn, can help an organisation to continue working toward a cure. With the rise of social media, people will continually self-promote, it is an unfortunate side effect to its many merits, but if charities can create a way in which it can be utilised to raise money and awareness for their cause, so much the better and I can’t see that we in the charity sector can criticise.
Here in the UK the Challenge has been appropriated by Macmillan Cancer Support. A well-known and loved charity providing support nurses to people facing cancer and their families. An undoubtedly good cause but one that has an income of £160 million and an employee base of nearly 1,200 (2013) and nothing to do with ALS/Motor Neurones Disease, the original beneficiary of the campaign.
A downside to campaigns such as these then is that they can really only be utilised by charities of Macmillan’s stature. Unfortunately for smaller charities the logistics of such a campaign, especially an unpredicted one, are impractical. They are unable to mobilise such social media interest and volume of donations. There is also the question as to whether those donating really understand what the cause is that they are giving to – should we not be encouraging them to make personal and educated choices, rather than donating to whichever charity has developed this particular campaign?
The millions raised demonstrates how effective social media is becoming at driving fundraising campaigns but it remains to be seen whether future challenges can harbour as much interest as the Ice Bucket Challenge whilst also encouraging people to make educated choices about the charities in which they support.
What are your thoughts about the Ice Bucket Challenge as a fundraising tool? Leave your comment below as we would love to hear from you. http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-0818.html