The ALS Ice Bucket Soapbox

I don’t get on my soapbox often: not publicly, anyway. Generally, when it comes to soapbox standings, I prefer to do it over a beer to over the internet.

So, I suppose readers may be wondering why I’ve put my soapbox down in the centre of the floor now. I don’t blame you if you are. Tipping water over your head hardly has much to do with writing.


The ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Ice Bucket Challenge is a nomination spread charity drive in which those nominated donate a small amount (around £5) to ALS and tip a bucket of ice water over their heads or, forgoing the bucket, donate a larger ‘Fine’ sum. Then they nominate three others to take part.

About six months ago, the same sort of nomination driven charity initiative was run for Cancer Awareness. Members of the public posted pictures without makeup (and some men wearing makeup) and paid their donation before passing it on.


Now, again, why am I talking about this? Well, I’ve spent the last four days bundled up on my couch with a serious cold – perhaps because three days prior to that I poured a bucket of ice water over my head. Point is, in those four days, I saw a hell of a lot of criticism and annoyance over said ALS challenge. Now I am annoyed because a lot of the arguments against it make no sense to me. So, here we are, soapbox set up.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge is more about people congratulating themselves than it is about charity.”

To the people who say this, I would like to ask: When was the last time you saw a charity drive that was not about one of the following:
1. Self-congratulation
2. Earning something in return

True altruism is extremely rare. Altruism, by definition, is the selfless concern for the well-being of others. When we give to charity it is not altruistic because we get that ‘we did good’ happy feeling. We self-congratulate. Even dropping money into a collection tin gives us a congratulatory high.

Even ignoring the psychological arguments against true altruism, most charity drives aim to give us a reason to participate, whether this is doing something ourselves and being able to self-congratulate (the Ice Bucket Challenge, or running the Race for Life, for example) or through giving us something like entertainment (Comic Relief, The Secret Policeman’s Ball, etc.)

Spectacle is one of the most well-used methods of earning donations. Look at all the people who perform sponsored sky-dives or run marathons and ask for donations. Organisations set up galas and events. These events cost lots of money to set up. By comparison, the Ice Bucket Challenge is incredibly cheap advertising for donations.


“Only 27% of the money donated is going to ALS research. It’s a scam!”

Every charity has costs. They have employees who need paying, they have office rental and website hosting. Even if a charity wanted to give every penny they gained to the reason it was donated, they can’t because while their intentions are good, they still live in a world where renting premises costs money and employees need to eat. Yes, they gain a lot by volunteers, but the people higher up in the organisation, the ones who work full time to keep the charity running need to live.


This pie chart is a reflection of the expenditure of the ALS Association. Yes, you will see from this that only 27% goes to research. However, take a good look at the rest of the chart. 19% is for patient and community services. That means that 19% is going to those who suffer with ALS and their families. 14% goes to continued fundraising efforts, advertising, etc, so that, once the Ice Bucket Challenge finishes, ALSA does not disappear from consciousness. 32% for education, which will lead to more research in the future. That 32% will lead to more volunteers and more professionals with an understanding so that they can enhance the lives of ALS sufferers and their families.

Add it all up, that’s 93% – 93% that goes to research, care, education, and further fundraising. Only 7% goes to the costs of running an international charity.

“All this Ice Bucket Challenge money sucks the donations that would have been made to other charities.”

There was an article a while ago where an author suggested that JK Rowling should stop writing because ‘when she releases a book, it sucks the air out of publishing, and no other books get sales’. Personally, I thought it was a pretty ridiculous opinion, as books are not like hairdryers in that you only need one of them. Using this argument here, in my opinion, is equally ridiculous.

Yes, I am sure that some people gave to ALS instead of another charity they would usually give to. However, it also inspired millions of people to give to charity when they normally would not. This challenge inflated the amount given, and the people giving it, exponentially.

When McDonalds run a 99p sale, we don’t tell them they shouldn’t because it sucks the air out of other fast food chains. We call it marketing. This is what this is! If people want to keep giving to other charities, nobody is stopping them. Charitable giving is not a hairdryer. You can give to more than one if you choose.


“There are children in Africa without water, and you’re tipping it over your heads.”

Admittedly, it was comments like this alongside cries of ‘I’m giving my money to charities that provide water to third world countries’ that finally made me set up my soapbox. This is, by and far, one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard against the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Firstly, think about the phrase ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for life.’ Most charities involved in providing clean and safe water to third world countries work on this principle. They don’t spend all those donations in shipping tonnes of water to Africa which will last for all of a few days. Instead, they use the money donated to build wells and help with the sanitation of the water available locally. So, someone tipping a bucket of water in England is not going to make the slightest bit of difference to them.

Secondly, the vast majority of people are using something around the size of a washing-up bowl to complete this challenge, probably around the same amount of water used every time we flush a toilet. I somehow doubt that the people making this argument also stopped flushing their toilet, doing their dishes, and taking showers to help provide water to third world countries.

Thirdly, the drought in California – This is a valid argument for people living in California and other areas suffering from drought, but I have seen people get around it if they wanted to take part in this charity drive. One of my friends said that due to the drought, she didn’t feel good about it… so instead she ran into the ocean and stuck her head in. – Remember that nobody is demanding anyone tips ice water over their heads. People can always just pay the donation if they feel bad about wasting water.


“With the amount of celebrities involved, it’s ridiculous it’s only raised this much. People aren’t even mentioning the charity.”

 Yes. I believe that people should be mentioning the charity drive when performing the challenge. However, out of the people who are considering taking part, who doesn’t know what it’s for by now? This challenge has turned into a global social media drive. If there are people who have completed the challenge, been nominated for it, or who have watched videos of their friends completing it without knowing it’s for charity, then I’d be surprised.

As to the celebrities involved, and how it should have raised more from them: How does anyone know how much they’re donating when they do it? While we donate about £5, they might be donating £100, or £10,000. Without looking at their bank accounts, you can’t know the percentage of the money raised that has come from celebrities.

I have learned from trying to sell books that without a doubt the best form of advertising is word of mouth. Being recommended to something by a friend or someone you like makes you much more likely to buy into said idea or product. Seeing a celebrity (or 100) do this challenge has probably inspired thousands of people who might not have taken part otherwise.


I am sure that there will be those who find flaws in my argument, who still want to call it stupid, self-serving, or a scam. But, I feel good that I got my opinions out on it. Personally, I think ALS is a wonderful charity to support, and if an organisation can run such a successful campaign to raise awareness, donations, and general good feelings amongst millions of people… why try to put a downer on it?

And, yes… if you want to see my Ice Bucket Challenge: You can find it on my Facebook page!


About chelecooke

Self-Published author of the Out of Orbit series and the Teeth series. UCL Residence Assistant, obsessive cross stitcher, avid reader and TV show watcher.
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