Left out in the cold by bucket challenge

  • Posted: Friday, August 22, 2014 6:26 a.m.

From a column by Michael Hiltzik, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times:

Americans are probably not unique in treating philanthropy as a sort of game, with the goal of making it go down painlessly.

The ice bucket challenge sweeping the nation — or at least Facebook and Twitter — is another example. It’s a system that includes credit card companies making a Christmastime donation every time you charge a purchase, or shoe companies sending a pair to Africa when you buy one for yourself, or your pledging money for every mile that someone else runs a charity race....

The concern of philanthropy experts ... is that high-profile fundraising campaigns end up cannibalizing other donations — those inclined to donate $100 to charity this summer, or this year, will judge that they’ve met their social obligations by spending the money on ALS.

The explosive spread of the ice bucket challenge could even end up hurting ALS fundraising in the long term. The challenge is a fad, and fads by their nature burn out — the brighter they glow, the sooner they disappear.

The hard work of philanthropy always lies in creating a sustainable donor base. ...

Even today the connection between the ice bucket videos and ALS seems tenuous — think about how many times you heard about the ice bucket challenge or saw the hashtag #icebucketchallenge on Twitter before you had any idea that it was associated with ALS. The ALS Assn. may be very pleased with its haul of donated cash this summer, but here’s betting that next year’s collections will be closer to last year’s than this year’s.

You want to contribute to the fight against ALS, great. But if you’re doing it just because you saw or heard about Bill Gates, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake or Ethel Kennedy dumping ice water on their head, maybe you should give a bit more thought to where you donate your money.

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