Monday, August 18, 2014

The Obligatory #IceBucketChallenge Blog Post - Criticism of Criticisms

It was inevitable that I'd do a blog post on the #IceBucketChallenge. As a Fundraising Consultant and Service Provider my business model relies on me piggybacking my thoughts on to the latest trend, attempting to add some insight that you'll associate with my name. As this post is shared it spreads my name and moves me up the search results, which then converts to more business and increased income, allowing me to accumulate more material objects until I die at 64. Anyway...

In case you missed it, the Ice Bucket Challenge is the latest on-line viral sensation which also claims to raise money and awareness for charity (in this case ALS a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's Disease).

It's interesting...but more interesting is that the tide is starting to turn and it's becoming more and more fashionable to criticise these things rather than support or just ignore them. You'll see that - we see it with every positive movement, as we have with charities themselves.

I've seen articles call it a 'damaging fad' and even 'the end of charity fund-raising'.

The criticism's I've read so far are:
  • It's not raising extra money for's just taking money from elsewhere.
    No doubt some people that donate $10 to this challenge will then find themselves having to decline a $10 donation elsewhere. That's unfortunate but it's still a donation. However, the people we're interested in are the ones that donate the $10 and then find themselves having to buy less drink, cigarettes, crap, etc. What the 'for-good' sector has effectively done is stolen some business from the 'for-bad' sector and made an effort at increasing national percentage donation levels that have otherwise remained pretty steady.
  • People are having too much fun.
    And presumably they're not having more fun...they're just taking fun away from other places?
    I never understand this - even if you work in a morgue or warzone or charity you're allowed to find fun as long as it's not at the expense of others. Jesus, otherwise what's the point of anything?
  • It doesn't raise any awareness.
    While 'awareness' may well be useless, you can't argue that more people searching for and reading about the disease is in fact raising awareness.
  • Some people aren't even donating.
    That's right. And these people weren't going to donate anyway. But some people are donating that hadn't before. And some of these 'some people' will go on to donate again.
  • Some people are donating to the wrong charity!Well they're probably doing so because they have a personal connection to that cause. So, whatever.
  • We should be donating without these fads. And we should be donating monthly because it's more cost-effective!
    We shooooould...but if you've ever met a human and/or have any self-awareness you'll know that we don't always do what we should.
  • It's a waste of waterReally? Kind of sounds like you're clutching at straws, like the people who say that electric cars use more energy than normal cars. But if you're really worried about it then use sea water. It's freezing.
  • It's so annoying!
    The reason the Ice Bucket Challenge is so annoying is because it's working so well. If your Facebook timeline was filled 20 million news stories about a cash collection on Tara Street you'd be annoyed too. Now you know how I feel about GAA and Harry Potter.
    But my buzz with fundraising is always that the results justify a tiny bit of annoyance and inconvenience. I always try to picture a kid who will benefit from these donations and someone telling his parents he shouldn't be helped anymore because their Twitter feed is annoying. You know where you won't hear about the Ice Bucket Challenge? In a book, a park, or a Marx Brothers movie.
  • Ice bucket purists are annoyed that the charity element is detracting from their first love.
    OK, I made that one up.

You'll notice a lot of these criticisms can be applied to cash collections, challenge events, galas, etc.

For me there is only one valid criticism, and it's not even a criticism of the campaign. It's more of a criticism of consultants, bloggers, Boards, and fundraisers that encourage you to try and replicate these things.

As I said in my #NoMakeUpSelfie post, charities should be prepared and ready to capitalise on these amazing things that crop out of nowhere.

But don't waste time and money trying to replicate it. Forget chasing the viral dragon and instead focus on good old-fashioned, reliable fundraising. And have some fun.

Here's my Ice Bucket Challenge:


  1. As a fundraising noob, I don't understand the first criticism. How is this a bad thing? Surely any donation to charity is a good thing? Please can you explain for useless plebs like me.

    Also, I just googled your name and the results turned up a photo of you dressed in what looks to be some kind of Elizabethan costume holding a roasted pig. Also, a photo of a half-child half-monkey. The things you'll do for fame!

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom.

      So the first comment is based on a belief that when people donate $10 to ALS, that is $10 that were going to give to Oxfam or someone else. So Oxfam lose out. These people that it's a zero-sum thing with no 'extra' money being raised, and in fact some extra cost because the first charity had to spend money to take that $10 from Oxfam. Make sense?

      It's almost certainly nonsense, but even if it does 'take' a donation from another charity, it's also generating lots of 'new' donations that wouldn't have come in, and also gets people accustomed to giving.

      I know the roasted pig photo but not sure about the half-monkey!

    2. Wait, is the half-child half-monkey my son??

    3. Thanks for explaining. I'm amazed that people would actually think that way... so am I supposed to donate to every single charity just so one doesn't lose out? Who says I was going to donate to Oxfam in the first place, and how do they know I didn't still donate to them? Seems to lack reasonable logic in my opinion.

      Monkey child is definitely not your son... as far as you know.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Of course you're right on all of the above - where I think there is an issue for the sector is the charities response to participants of these type of events. Having spoken to a large number of fundraisers about this subject, their knee jerk response seems to be to assume that participants have are in some way engaged with the brand and that that by implication a fundraising relationship has started.

    So I think the issue for the sector is how do understand which participants offer income opportunities and how do charities faciliate that behaviour - rather than assuming that if someone pours water over themselves that they must want a relationship with the charity.

    Best wishes