Monday, August 18, 2014

Charity, Vanity, and Ice Buckets

I believe in service.  I believe in charity.  Any means to those ends is probably a good thing.  Whether it's your Dad's venerable Trout Unlimited or VFW banquet, raising funds for "The Cause," or it's the young guys and gals from "The Chive Charities," getting absolutely snockered on Fireball and acting scandalous in public to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for disabled children, American veterans, or what have you, it's all good. It's really all good - and it's almost uniquely American.

Its goodness really requires two inseparable things:  money and engagement. Money is money, and as Billy Bragg sang, "Money speaks for money."   If you believe a problem is worth solving (relative to your other daily commitments in life), the most direct link its solution is money.  Not all problems can be saved with money, but generally speaking, money helps.  A lot. 

Now to that Buzz Kill word "engagement."  I know....groannnnnn.    Notice I didn't say "attention" or "web hits" or "viral."   Engagement through a charitable campaign means that you (or I) are now actively working, likely in our spare time, to further a solution for the problem that you (or I) believe is worth tackling.  That kind of "work" could be things like phone calls to elected officials, coordinating a fundraising event, or working directly with the affected population (whether it's people or animals) to do what you can reasonably do.  It's real time and real effort.  That's how "awareness is raised." By the way, there's really good "awareness" that teen drinking is bad, drunk driving is dumb, and littering is foolish.  How are those awareness campaigns going?

I'd argue strongly that awareness is not raised by clicking "Like."  Solutions are not found by simply "sharing" a link.  And despite what several of my friends on social media think, solutions are not found when you post a video stating, "Either pour a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100 to ALS!"  What?  "Or" donate $100 to ALS?  How about "pour a bucket of ice on your head AND donate $100 to ALS OR if you chicken out, you donate $200 to ALS?"

What is the problem with ALS?  Well, research on cures (or methods to alleviate or delay symptoms) is underfunded, education (on the disease) for doctors is underfunded and not widely available, and lastly, because of the above reasons, ALS tends to be mis-diagnosed early in the disease, and critical months or years of early treatment are lost as a result.   Those are serious things that can't only be remedied with a dollar amount.  But which of them can be resolved by you throwing a bucket of ice on your head and NOT sending in a check (I do realize that some people, as well as notable celebrities, have been taking the ice bucket challenge AND mailing a check)?   As a result, donations are up, and that's a wonderful thing.  But I think it has little to do with folks who take a bucket of ice on the head, while keeping their checkbooks nice and dry.

Take for example, this blog post from an ALS victim's family praising the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge."  In that very informative article, you read about how the money coming in the door might help elevate this disease into having a more standardized and successful pattern of treatment.  But you don't read a lot about "increasing awareness."   I copied the text and comments into MS Word and searched its nearly 4,000 words  for words containing the phrase "aware" - because those who don't write a check and don't volunteer their time think their "bucket of ice" will "increase awareness."    The ALS family (and other families commenting - seriously, these are the people who are on the front line, experiencing what's needed) use the words "aware" and "awareness" five times within 3,900 words.  They use the words "money," "funds," "funding", and "$" over 40 times.

It should be pretty clear.  According to the New York Times, $13 million has been raised, during which 1.3 million people have dumped ice buckets on their heads.  That means, in fact, that people are not donating to ALS if they dump the ice buckets, since every ice bucket dump has a value of approximately $10.

Ten dollars.  Ten dollars is not substantial funding.  It's what you'll spend on lunch today.  A twenty second video isn't engagement if you're also not going to be doing more work for that charity, or that cause at large.  It's just pouring a bucket of ice on your head.  It's not "awareness" in any sense of the word.

So forgive the "Ice bucket party poopers," as we've been called.  I don't personally care if you choose not to support the ALS Foundation, but don't claim to be doing charity work when you're not writing a check, not donating time or services, and are simply dumping a bucket of ice on your head and challenging your friends to do the same "OR" donate to charity.

And before you start...I donated to the ALS Association today.  You should too, if you're inclined.  From the screen:

Thank you for your generosity and support of The ALS Association. Your gift enables us to make progress in the pillars of our mission - developing treatments and a cure for ALS and empowering people with ALS to live fuller lives by providing compassionate care and services.


BrookField Angler said...

This! Got nominated by my good friend Dan from impractical fisherman last night. I have no real tie to the cause. If I did it, it would only because "it's the cool thing to do" and that's just to trendy for me. Call me a donor

Kirk River Mud said...

I have no tie to it, either, but I'm game for a good fundraising campaign, which this certainly is.