The Ice Bucket Challenge

Around the beginning of August my Facebook feed began showing numerous videos of friends and family doing the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. I figured it was only a matter of time before someone in that mix of friends and family decided they would challenge me. Given that I had yet to be challenged I considered what I would do when the inevitable came around.

On August 18th I was challenged twice, once by my dad and the other by my cousin (and her roommate by proxy since they did it together).

So here’s what decided to do, and it’s what I feel I do best: write.

First off, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that bit by bit reduces the motor function of those afflicted. As the disease runs it’s debilitating course, which can last years, the sufferer loses all motor control, relying on the aid of others for tasks which are often taken for granted, such as eating, walking, even standing. Nothing is ever simple with ALS.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous person afflicted with ALS, apart from Lou Gehrig. Hawking has been living with ALS since 1963, when he was given two years to live at the age of 21. His 72nd birthday was in January 2014. For a closer look at the disease, and many life lessons at that, look no further than the Mitch Albom book Tuesdays With Morrie. The titular Morrrie is dying of ALS throughout the course of the book.

Now, onto this, the latest of social media fads.

This whirlwind of videos about the “Ice Bucket Challenge” began long before the summer as a way for professional golfers to raise money for their favorite charities. Most of the time it was them just trying to one-up each other, more about the goofiness and showmanship.

It gained traction in the US when Greg Norman issued the challenge to “Today” host Matt Lauer who accepted and donated his money to the Hospice of Palm Beach County.

Around the same time another golfer challenged his cousin whose husband has suffered from ALS for 11 years. She donated to ALS. From there it spread to a baseball player who himself has lost the ability to walk from ALS. From there #StrikeOutALS was born and the ALS Association became the de facto charity for this #IceBucketChallenge.

A month later is where I come in.

Philanthropy is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed often by the generous donation of money to good causes”

Philanthropy comes in two forms. Those who donate time and money and champion causes they believe in out of a desire to help others.

The others who donate money so they can have some building or fund named after them. It’s still benefiting the greater good and helping people but has a narcissistic “Look at me, I care!” attached to it.

This “Ice Bucket Challenge” nonsense is the latter.

Everyone posting these videos is doing what they’ve been doing on Facebook and other social platforms for the past decade: going with whatever the current trend is.

Remember planking? This is pretty much the same thing. #TBT? Same thing. Those giraffe pictures that were a plague a few months ago? How about the “Truth is…” Or “I like it…” or “That moment…” All of them are fads. This Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing different.

The options for the Ice Bucker Challenge are “Dowse yourself in ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association.”

Why is the “donate $100 to the ALS Association” the negative here? From seeing the videos all over Facebook it appears most Americans would rather just dump a bucket of water on themselves instead of donating money to good cause. It’s gotten to the point where I just ignore most of them that show up in my feed.

That leads me to my next point. Are you aware that the ALS Association spends only 27% of its budget on research into ALS? Another 19% go into “Patient and Community Services.” 46% of the money donated goes to research and patient care. An additional 32% goes to what is listed as Education, which could be good but I don’t have enough information to make that determination. The rest is spent on Fundraising and Administration. That amounts to almost 25% of all funding just for administrative efforts. That number should be much lower.

In 2011 the former CEO of this nonprofit took in a tidy $281,250 between salary and benefits.

But the point of all this isn’t to rant against the ALS Association or even the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s just a preface to my response to being issued the challenge, so here’s my response:

For the past seven years I have donated to research I care about and helped communities I live in and then some. I have never had the desire to trumpet “Look at me, I care about this! I gave money to this cause!” all over social media while I do it. I ran in charity 10K for foster children a few months ago and my mom asked me to let her know next time I did something like that so they could contribute. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me.

This is the first time I have ever posted about it online in the seven years I’ve been doing so. The only reason I am doing so now is because I have been dared to donate money to a cause. That’s what this amounts to, a dare. “I dare you to do this good thing.” What a novel, and insipid, idea.

I will continue to contribute long after this craze has ended. Because that’s all this is. Some craze that everyone seems to have jumped on board with because they love the attention and trying to be quirky in how they drench themselves so they can avoid donating money. Like donating money to a foundation for a disease without a cure that affects some 30,000 Americans was the worst thing they could do.

People shouldn’t need to be guilt tripped and shamed on social media to “promote the cause”. I have seen “Doesn’t count! $100 dollars! Hahaha!” Like it was embarrassing. I’ve seen people react with “Hey thanks asshole!” because donating money is such a despicable thing to do.

Here’s my call out: I’ve been contributing for years. Have you? No need to answer. Just a call for self reflection.

So if you’re still reading this then consider yourself challenged. Challenged to question why you’re even doing this ice bucket challenge. After that, if you’re still set on doing it and agree with the cause or the means, then by all means, go ahead and dowse yourself. Or better yet, just donate the damn money to a charity you care about instead of plastering videos all over social media.

An Addendum:

I realize people are having fun with this. That’s good. I also realize it has generated a ton of money for the ALS Association. That’s better.

I am aware that many people who have done this challenge also donate plenty of time and resources to other causes, without the narcissistic streak. I am also aware that many people both take their lumps and donate.

I am not trying to detract from these points. This is just my take on the Ice Bucket Challenge and I am sure I have pissed a few people off. You do what you want.


  1. Richard’s mother died from ALS. My friend Pauline died from ALS. Dad and I sat in Andrew’s hospital room singing with a few friends hours before he died. We attended the funeral of Annie last week. At the funeral was her brother Carl who is in the battle. Enough said.

    1. My goal is not to disparage the all too real struggle. Overall this trend is great. The main issue I have with it that people are doing it just because it is trendy to do so. That’s the wrong reason to do anything.

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