Some (unpopular) observations about the ALS ice bucket challenge

No doubt you have witnessed the ALS ice bucket challenge that is being undertaken by scores of people who then post videos of themselves to popular social media sites like Facebook.  And given the absolutely awful ALS (commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease), it is hard not to feel good about raising awareness about the horrible disease and increasing dramatically donations to help fight the disease.

But is the ice bucket challenge a universally good thing?  Do not get me wrong, I have raised money and have worked to bring attention to noble causes.  I am sure the ALS Association (ALSA) is delighted that people are talking about the disease, and that donations have skyrocketed.  On August 19, donations to ALS had reached $22.9 million.  (They raised $1.8 million during the same period last year.) This is a phenomenal increase over previous years.  And, to be clear, ALSA has been very transparent in their finances.  And publications like the Chronicle of Philanthropy suggest this campaign will be studied to see if it can be replicated by other non-profits.

Moreover, ALS is a hideous and horrible disease, that causes a slow, agonizing death where little by little independence is taken away.  Having watched people suffer from ALS, I can attest firsthand to just how awful and hideous this disease is, and how much those who struggle with it are often heroes in how they deal with it.

But philanthropy experts and others offer some cautions about the success of this fundraising campaign.  Michael Hiltzik, Will Oremus and William MacAskill, among others, have raised concerns about this fundraising method.  In this short essay we shall try to discuss a few of the reasons why this campaign raises concerns.

Continue reading