Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When does a good cause stop being enough?

It's been fascinating to watch the ALS Ice bucket challenge develop over the past couple of weeks. It's clearly been an incredibly successful campaign which has had a huge impact on awareness and donations for the charity.

However I won't be taking part.

There are several reasons for this:

1. The point of the challenge was to raise awareness of a severe condition that wasn't receiving enough attention. Given at least one Ex-President has taken part, as well as many celebrities, the campaign has clearly and considerably achieved that aim already.

2. As well as awareness, they obviously wanted to raise donations. Again, they have clearly achieved that, raising over $30m so far. Most people aren't actually donating, and besides - Bill Gates took part, and he could double that figure with his spare change. (Not saying he doesn't do good charity work, just putting in context.)
It's a great cause to be helping those with such a terrible illness, but there are so many other worthwhile causes that fight just as serious illnesses - which affect many more people. There are also other serious world issues that need more attention.

3. From what I have read, ALS don't have the most wonderful practices when it comes to animal testing. I find it much harder to reconcile helping solve one problem when it negatively affects another.

4. And this is the main reason. The campaign has essentially stopped being about the charity anyway.
It was a challenge to raise awareness. It has raised that awareness to a level where my individual participation makes such an insignificant difference to awareness as to be pointless. The only people who will see it have already seen other people do it.

What's really driving the campaign now is basically peer pressure and schadenfreude justified by a charitable cause. The joy on people's Facebook posts as they nominate people to go through discomfort and embarrassment, in a context they find it hard to escape. It's the same pressure that caused Necknomiation to get so globally shared, but without the humorous setup. Sadly, the Ice Bucket challenge has also had similarly negative consequences.

Like I said, that's not to say it wasn't a valid and brilliantly set up idea for a worthwhile cause. But that campaign is done. The sharing wasn't about getting random people to take part, it was about getting influential people to do so. They have. Awareness found, donations up, job done.

So I won't be doing the Ice Bucket challenge simply to make a few people chuckle. Instead I'll be responding to a cause that has affected people I know recently, and who can make a difference to a far higher number of people - by making a donation to the Cancer Council instead.