Normally when I select a subject to write about I try and choose one that is rarely discussed. But today I have broken my own rule by selecting the Ice Bucket Challenge. I am on social media a lot, and this is the one subject that has dominated my feeds this week. I have even read many pieces in the press about it, so I thought if I can’t beat them I will join them, and add some of my own thoughts to the debate. Firstly I have to declare, that I have my own fund within my hospital, which I raise money for on an ad hoc basis, to purchase specialist equipment for the ward that looks after me. There are no admin costs to run the fund and I discuss with the professionals how the money is spent. This means that I can see a tangible result for my efforts, which motivates me. I have never been a lover of donating money into a vast pot, never really sure how my money is being used. Of course, charity giving is a very personal thing, and we all do things differently.
During my involvement with charities, I have seen a massive change in the way that funds are raised, particularly with the addition of social media. Large teams of professional fundraisers, and media specialists, attack their target market. Leave an email address somewhere and you will be chased by people asking you to donate by direct debit or increase your current donation. This is being accelerated by sponsored adverts on Facebook and Twitter etc. It is so easy to donate these days, and campaigns encourage you to text, then of course they have your details to chase you after you have done your challenge. So your small donation may only be the start of things!
Naturally, the world is a better place for charities, and I am sure that at some stage in our lives we will all benefit from services provided by one, and to provide those services an income is required. Many people find that ‘good cause giving’ makes them feel a whole lot better about themselves, which means everyone wins. But I am starting to question what I interpret to be cynical marketing. I am starting to see a non stop barrage of challenges where people nominate others through social media, which is fine for a bit of fun, but there are people who feel totally uncomfortable and feel obliged to donate. Celebrity led in most cases, they raise their profiles, everyone follows, and the charity raises money.
If all publicity is good publicity then the Ice Bucket Campaign has been a massive success, and I’m sure when I ask my fundraising friends they will say it is incredible, but I have seen a lot of unexpected feedback, some quite acidic. I have read many different reports as to where the challenge originated but the major impact was in the U.S.A where it was called ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Then it was adopted in the U.K for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. (MND) However not unusually it seems that other charities are also seeing the benefits of this challenge, in particular Macmillan Cancer Support.
Wow, I am seeing some incredibly vociferous people talking about how the campaign has been ‘hijacked’ and it is taking money away from ALS/ MND, and accusing other charities of ‘piggybacking’ this successful campaign and I wanted to open up this discussion further. Charity fundraising is a very competitive place, where seemingly the large get larger and the small get left behind now. But isn’t it up to us to decide who gets our hard earned cash? If we don’t agree how organisations operate, then surely the answer is don’t donate? There is very little that is unique these days, and who can say who ‘owns’ a particular challenge? If people want to donate to a cause in whatever way they wish, then they should be able to.
Obviously adding the FUN to fundraising is a great plus for everyone, and charities are making the most of this particular fad, but they should, shouldn’t they? What a lot people seem to forget is that many of these people are well paid professionals, doing a job of work for their employer. Some people seem to have the idea that people who work at charities should all be volunteers. Charity has become big business in many cases and needs to be run that way, employing specialists in media and marketing. Are people doing the challenge and donating money to the wrong causes because they are confused what it is for? No, I’m sure not, but I do understand the anger of perceived ‘copying.’
However with the speed that these campaigns move, it seems if you don’t join in you miss out, and if I was in charge of a team of fundraisers I would be asking why we didn’t join in! My personal worry is that many smaller charities are getting left behind as fundraising crazes go viral. The other major concern for me is that I truly wonder if people give the consideration of donating money, the thought that it deserves. Are you donating to the cause you believe in, or because you are having fun on the internet and it has become ‘fashion’ or appears on the TV frequently? Marketing campaigns are there for a reason, and many charities doing wonderful work cannot afford them, but that doesn’t make them less valuable.
What has come out of this for me, is that people need to think more carefully about who they want to give money to and how they do it. Great if you can have fun, and challenge yourself and others too but it can also be done quietly! As always these are my views and I would love to hear yours. If you have done this challenge, who have you done it for and why?