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In defense of the #IceBucketChallenge

The ice bucket challenge has increased in popularity, but also in its detractors.
The ice bucket challenge has increased in popularity, but also in its detractors.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The #IceBucketChallenge started off as a friendly game in which participants were dared via social media to either dump a bucket of ice over their heads, and/or donate $100 to the charity of their choice, but has since evolved into an extremely popular viral campaign to raise awareness and funding for the research of ALS. However, given the challenge's massive success, in both popularity and fundraising for ALS research over the past weeks, it has now become thought of as more of an enemy to altruism and fundraising than a help by many.

I'll get to the reasons behind why many see the #IceBucketChallenge as hurting charitable fundraising in a second, but first, here is what we do know about how successful the challenge has been for research of ALS.

The ALS Association reports that they have received over $5.5 million in donations, with over 150,000 individual donors, since July 29. During the same time period last year, the ALS Association only received $32,000 in donations; which means the #IceBucketChallenge has increased the donations to the ALS by over 17,087% from this year to last. In fact, if you look at the statistics, the number of individual donors this year to ALS is almost five times greater than dollars that were raised last year.

However, there are some that will argue that all this money and attention being poured into one charity is a bad thing because it takes away from donations to other charities. There's even a name for it: "funding cannibalism". And while I do not doubt that this is true on some level, that most Americans only have a certain amount of "disposable" income and that giving away the little money they can to one charity might mean they cannot give to another charity, I would argue that there was no promise that those who are participating in the #IceBucketChallenge would give to a charity at all. Especially, to that of disease research, which, I assume, would be the main detracting communities to the challenge.

Surprisingly, for the better, a recent Gallup poll showed that 83% of American households gave to charities in 2013; however, take in mind that slipping a $5 bill into a church donation box, or some loose change into a Salvation Army bucket, counted as a donation. And while both of those situations can be argued as worthy causes, one would have to admit that from a time, money, and convenience standpoint, they're not the same as taking the time to cut a $100 check for disease research.

Therefore, it seems illogical to assume that an abundance of charities, like the ALS Association, would be taking in donations left-and-right if not for the #IceBucketChallenge, and the ALS' 2013 donation statistics quickly back up that assertion.

Rather, I would argue that money actually given to a good cause, even if it's all just to one cause or a few, is better than the hypothetical assumption that every one participating in the challenge is spreading a mass amount of disposable income over a large number of charities.

Next, there are those that argue that the challenge is part of a recent social media trend called "slacktivism", or the belief that donating your time to a social media post is equally or more valuable than actually doing something about the cause. In example, this recent Huffington Post Op-Ed calls to issue the fact that most of these #IceBucketChallenge videos circulating the Internet put more emphasis on dumping cold water over one's head, and subsequently "showing off our summer bodies", as the author states, than they do the actual donation part. Additionally, the author contends, while the viral nature of the challenge is all well-and-good, one would be much better off simply posting a video that they're donating to charity, explaining why, and challenging others to do the same, sans ice.

To this point, I would contend that the challenge has raised over $5.5 million for the ALS Association, so apparently these "pointless" social media posts are doing something right. Furthermore, the piece assumes that "going viral" or spreading a message across social networks is as simple as just asking; it's not. The act of dumping the ice, from a marketing standpoint, is not simply a silly gimmick or a way to show off how good one looks, but rather a quite clever, and successful attention-grabbing action aimed to draw-in and entertain the reader, and motivate them to act upon a call-to-action.

In other words, the #IceBucketChallenge without dumping the ice on your head is like setting up a restaurant, throwing a sign up in front, and foregoing any commercials or marketing in trust that "just being there" is good enough to attract the public.

Social media is a popular and competitive market, and to assume that attention is a given and not earned, is an easy pathway to marketing failure.

Finally, to all those that see the #IceBucketChallenge as a negative, I would simply ask them to look at the numbers. Sure, all the money is going to one charity, but nothing is promised in life, and $5.5 million secured to the ALS Association is better than $5.5 million in McDonald's cheeseburgers, or most other popular things we spend our disposable income on at the end of the day. Sure, maybe some people are posting their videos of the challenge just for attention, but they may be attracting others who really want to make a difference in the fight against a debilitating disease.

In the end, fighting against a silly video aimed at a good cause that has, quantifiably, done some actual good in this world seems like a even more silly war to wage.

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