As summer winds down and fewer finds themselves challenged to stand under a bucket of ice, we have a chance to reflect on the phenomenon — both its strengths and its downsides.
The ALS ice bucket challenge has its supporters and critics. Some argue that the craze is all about vanity, offering people the opportunity to flaunt their altruism without actually making a substantive effort to learn about the disease.
But critics of the ice bucket challenge may forget that ultimately, in evaluating the effectiveness of a charity effort, the beneficiary is far more important than the donor.
When we evaluate a fundraising campaign based on the motivations of the donor, we convey the idea that the donor matters most. But in reality, the wellbeing of those receiving the donations is far more important. A campaign’s effectiveness should be measured based on the number of individuals it helps. Those who criticize people who do the ALS ice bucket challenge as vain are missing the point.
Some critics of the campaign say that dumping water on your head is an “out” for actual action — that people complete the challenge and feel satisfied with themselves so they take no further steps to combat ALS. But in reality, it is unlikely that those individuals would have taken any steps to fight ALS had they not been nominated for the challenge. Dumping ice on your head to raise awareness is not the most effective action, but it is certainly better than doing nothing at all.
Of course, it is always better for people to donate for the right reasons, out of true empathy rather than a desire to attract likes on Facebook. But the fact is, many people are vain and looking to boost their social media presences, and non-profit organizations might as well use it for a good cause.
It is notoriously difficult for the public to muster empathy for victims of rare diseases like ALS. These sorts of diseases don’t get public exposure under normal circumstances because most people find it difficult to connect to them on a personal level. Studies show that it is difficult to empathize significantly with something unfamiliar to you — as ALS is to many Americans, who had barely heard of the disease before the ice bucket challenge phenomenon. Due to the campaign, many more people have now heard of the disease and may develop further interest in researching it.
If we could use empathy to inspire charity rather than relying on social media challenges, that would be ideal. It would be better for the moral health of donors. But that’s much easier said than done. And for those suffering from ALS, or those who have loved ones afflicted by the disease, the campaign has certainly had a positive influence. After all, it has raised over $100 million and educated millions — and those figures may outweigh the campaign’s downsides.
Leo Kim is a sohpomore in Trumbull College. Contact him at email@example.com.