When Stunts dictate our charitable giving
The choices we make about where to donate money for health causes aren’t always rational. We are probably more often driven to give by a disease that has touched a loved one than by utilitarian calculations about which illnesses impact the most people or receive the least investment from pharmaceutical companies.
Sometimes our decisions about donating don’t even seem to be driven by values or potential impact — but by celebrities and the entertainment value of the fundraising campaigns they endorse. Look no further than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The feel-good campaign works like this: you film yourself throwing a bucket of ice over your head, post it to social media, and then challenge your friends to either do the same or donate $100 to the ALS Association, which works to end Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Now every famous person — from Martha Stewart to Justin Bieber and Bill Gates — seems to be dumping ice on their heads in the name of the motor neuron disease.
The fun concept and celebrity heft are working. The ALS Association has said they’ve raised so much money so quickly, they’re scrambling to know what to do with it. Since July 29, when the challenge kicked off, they reported receiving $22.9 million in donations. That’s more than ten times the amount they raised in the same period last year ($1.9 million). Other charities are reportedly now searching for their ice-bucket equivalent.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and its virality, raise some interesting questions about which charities and health causes we choose to give to. It seems to add further evidence to the fact that celebrities and gimmicks often drive our charitable donating more than, perhaps, they should.
To be clear: ALS is an awful, debilitating disease that is worthy of donor dollars. It essentially triggers a slow paralysis in sufferers by causing the nerve cells to stop working. It’s also a death sentence. From the time of diagnosis, most people live only two to five years. There’s no cure, and, more than 70 years after baseball star Lou Gehrig drew attention to the cause, scientists still don’t know what brings it on. (Continued: Vox)