THE BLOG

Why the 'Ice Bucket Challenge' Goes Against the True Needs of Charity

29/08/2014 08:26 BST | Updated 28/10/2014 09:59 GMT

It's incredibly difficult to express a negative opinion about charitable activity without coming across as a cold-hearted, mean-spirited cynic. With the majority of fund-raising initiatives, the end will justify the means but that said, I can't be the only person sick to the back teeth of their Facebook news feed being full of self-satisfied people tipping buckets of iced water over their heads.

Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, the reason people are covering themselves in freezing liquid is part of a chain of dares which also involves donating money to the MNDA (Motor Neurone Disease Association). Once you've completed the challenge and given money, you then challenge three of your friends to do the same. The twist is that if you refuse to do the dare, you have to give more to charity. Celebrities around the world have been getting involved and millions of pounds have been raised.

As charity memes go, the ice bucket challenge is one of the better ones of recent times. It's not as patronising as the no make-up selfie where women posted pictures of themselves online while - shock, horror - not wearing any make-up, which seemed to largely be so other women could tell them how naturally beautiful they were, while posting "#brave" underneath. It's also better than that time your annoying friends all changed their Facebook profile pictures to cartoon characters, which somehow failed to rid the entire planet of child abuse.

The ice bucket challenge has genuinely raised a lot of money for a worthwhile cause, yet it still hasn't been without its controversies. The MNDA is a relatively small charity with limited resources, and in recent days, Macmillan Cancer Support has been accused of hijacking the MNDA's idea with their own ice bucket challenge adverts and specialist text number to receive donations. This has led to some bizarre exchanges of views, with people criticising donors and charities for "stealing" donations away or somehow giving money to the "wrong" charity. Seeing as practically all charities need every penny they can get, and more besides, it hardly seems in the right spirit to be complaining about a worthwhile organisation using some clever marketing to attract more money, even if their tactics seem a little underhand.

What's most concerning, however, is the fact that the ice bucket challenge promotes charitable donations as a gimmick, a one-off, and something that has to be associated with something less likely to harsh your mellow than an honest campaign showing the ravages of illness or deprivation. Comic Relief may have its flaws, but as well as painfully unfunny skits involving Lenny Henry and McFly, there's the evidence of the good that the fundraising does, and moving VTs of celebrities observing the need for help first-hand. With the ice bucket challenge, the motives and the donations seem a secondary concern, with the opportunity to see your friends get buckets of water chucked on their heads being the main reason to get involved.

The thing that sticks in the craw most of all though, is that we're encouraged to congratulate people who have donated a few quid and endured a few seconds of discomfort, yet we're subsequently ignoring the people who donate money monthly and don't make a song and dance about it, the people who volunteer their time to help those less fortunate, and the people who work tirelessly to actually make the communities we live in better places. Posting a video of yourself doing the ice bucket challenge may also involve a charitable donation, but what you're really saying is, "Look at me. Aren't I a great and well-rounded person?"

Charities need regular donations, and if we're taught that giving money to those in need is an extraordinary event that accompanies an online meme, then it's not a sustainable income stream for the organisations that require them. In an ideal world, charities wouldn't need marketing and PR departments, because we'd all donate our spare money to those that need it most, yet that's not how human nature works, and the advertising and campaigns that charities undertake are entirely necessary.

If you're nominated to do the ice bucket challenge, then great, get involved and raise some money for charity. What would help the charity more, however, is if you donated the larger "fine" for not taking part, regardless of whether you tip a load of water over yourself or not. Just remember that while you are doing good and that doing something is better than doing nothing, you're not a martyr and you're not saving the world by making a solitary donation. It's possible to be charitable without shouting about it and indirectly pleading for validation and Facebook likes.