Throwing cold water over charity stunts

Throwing cold water over charity stunts

Mike Oliver on the fundraising craze which has been sweeping the nation this summer.

If you haven’t heard of the ice bucket challenge you must be from another planet. Over the last month in the media it seems like everyone from nonentities to celebrities has had buckets of cold water thrown over them, supposedly in the name of charity.

It’s an idea that started in America to raise awareness and money for the little known Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Society in 2013 and went viral on social media in July and August 2014 and, of course, it found its way here. Clips have appeared on mainstream television, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere too.

The idea is that if you are nominated, you have the option of either having a bucket of ice cold water thrown over your head or donating money to the named charity. In Britain this charity became the Motor Neurone Disease Association. So far it has been estimated that more than $100 million has been raised in USA and £6 million in Britain.

These estimates, if correct, are staggering but the ice bucket challenge has not been without its critics. Some have argued that it has merely diverted funds away from other causes and failed to increase the overall level of donations while others have suggested that it has failed to involve the participants meaningfully in the cause being supported. One journalist called it ‘a middle-class wet T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists’.

From what I’ve seen in this country the stunt has certainly become more important than the cause espoused and most of the videos fail to mention the cause or how to support it. In fact it merely panders to our selfie-obsessed world and allows anyone who is prepared to undergo it their 15 minutes of fame and offers fading celebrities the chance of more media exposure.

But given the potential sums raised, can we expect the big charities to embrace this form of fundraising in a big way? After all, some of them have recently been criticised for paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to call centre companies to cold call us, usually at the most inconvenient of times or for their use of aggressive charity muggers who now plague our high streets.

So getting people to perform stunts might be a more lucrative and acceptable way to fundraise. But what has been missing in all this has been the voice of those who are supposed to be helped by all of this. We know nothing about how people with motor neurone disease feel about having stunts performed in their name. As disabled people, we know plenty about what it feels like to be ignored or represented in whatever way they like by the big charities and the advertising agencies they employ.

It’s no surprise in our selfish and narcissistic world that individual stunts are being used to replace the altruistic impulse that was at the heart of collective provision of the welfare state and, as that is gradually dismantled, brace yourself for more stunts like this. I would rather pay more tax than donate money to charity because some idiot has had a bucket of cold water tipped over him. And if anyone nominates me you know what you can do with your bucket.

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