Ice Bucket Challenges: is this what modern charity looks like?

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Bury Free Press, 30th August 2014

If you haven’t heard of ‘Ice Bucket Challenges’, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. The idea of them is to record yourself being showered in freezing icy water, and then post the video online. It’s in aid of research for ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – which is the American name for Motor Neurone Disease.

Once you’ve suitably drenched yourself, you then nominate others to do the same. The craze has spread across the world, reaching ex-President George Bush, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. Charities funding research for ALS have received £48m in donations, from 1.7m people, in less than a month. That’s both unprecedented and extraordinary – it’s 23% of what Macmillan raised in the whole of 2013.

 

The reason why the campaign has been so successful is twofold. Firstly, the ‘nominations’ for the challenge come from people you know, so there’s a much larger incentive to donate than when being flyered or seeing an advert. There’s a sense of community; friends and family inviting you to take part engender a feeling of safety in numbers, of working as a team.

 

But secondly, the use of the internet accelerates the process of charitable giving. If the challenges operated via text, the only person who would know you had given would be the one who nominated you. But on Facebook, they play on an inherent desire to show off to the world. “Look at me,” the video screams “I’m interesting and fun and generous”.

 

If anything, it also plays on the human fear of being left out. Everyone else is showering themselves for charity: I should too. That thought process is intrinsic to Facebook – the entire platform is built on the understanding that people want to share everything they’re doing with everyone they know, to talk to people all the time and know what is going on amongst circles of friends. The Ice Bucket Challenges thrive online because they spread quickly, and people are eager to be part of the group.

 

The campaign is a clever and internet-aware idea, and one that knows how to harness the group mentality that spawned the famed ‘NekNominate’ drinking game. It is precisely because the idea is not owned by anyone that it has worked – people want to show off and fit in, and they’re happy to use charity donation as an excuse. £5 is a small price to pay for enduring self-worth.

That is to say, they’re not a bad thing. They are doing a lot of good for a lot of people and they are fun. But maybe this is what modern charity looks like.

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