The efficacy and morality of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

What good is achieved by monopolizing charity fundraising techniques?

In the past few weeks, social media outlets have become saturated with videos of people from various walks of life doing what has been dubbed as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The purpose of the Ice Bucket Challenge is to raise awareness around the debilitating motor neurone disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or, more formally, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

The challenge encourages people to either donate money, or face the consequences of having a bucket of ice dumped over them, or both. The challenge itself has already raised millions of dollars that will be used to fund research for ALS in an effort to fuel advances for this incapacitating disease. However, one is left to wonder whether or not our actual awareness of the disease has increased. Does the ice bucket challenge actually inform us about the disease, or does it simply churn out blind donators that are supporting a cause that the majority know nothing about?

People may quickly become jaded by giving money to organizations that are relying solely on goodwill and not giving anything in return, but donating simply because you were nominated by a friend poses a great risk. In fact, it creates an internet fad which motivates a significant number of people to do the challenge for attention, rather than for the actual cause at hand.

As individuals, we cannot possibly contribute to every cause out there and, as a result, we must be vigilant and instead tackle the issues that are meaningful to us. Perhaps there would be more benefit derived if the Ice Bucket Challenge expanded to a universal cause, where you could make a donation to the cause of your choice rather than just for ALS. 

Unfortunately, the ALS Association has already seen this viral marketing tool as an opportunity to generate more revenue by trademarking the Ice Bucket Challenge as their own. If down the road, the ALS Association is granted rights to this idea, who is to stop them from preventing other non-profits from benefiting from it? This could well be the foreshadowing of hefty legal battles in the near future.

It is important to know that while ALS is a grave concern, there are other diseases that require as much, if not more, attention as they are claiming thousands of lives compared to ALS, which affects approximately one in 50,000 people annually.   

The Ice Bucket Challenge may have revolutionized the speed and method of charitable fundraising,  but it has also created a double-edged sword. We need to ensure that we are not creating a trend where donating becomes more so a source of entertainment than a passionate cause. 

Dmitry Polyanskyy is a second-year student studying math and computer science.

Correction: An earlier version of this article, as well as the version in print, featured a misspelling of the author’s name. It is spelled Dmitry Polyanskyy rather than Dmytry Polyanskyy.

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