Earlier this week, I joined the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Victoria Beckham and George W Bush and participated in the ice bucket challenge.
I can’t say I was surprised when a clip of a friend doing the deed and nominating me to go next popped up on my Facebook account; having seen my feed gradually fill up with these videos over the previous couple of days, I knew it was only a matter of time.
So, after some careful navigating of logistical issues such as the fact that I live in a third-floor flat without a garden, and that two of my three local supermarkets (including, ironically, Iceland) were completely sold out of ice, I duly took to my shower cubicle – fully dressed – and took the plunge. I won’t dwell on the experience itself, other than to say that it was predictably cold and unpleasant, and that if you’re planning to take the challenge yourself then an entire large bag of ice cubes is probably overkill. The cubes hurt as they clatter onto your head, and I managed to drop the plastic bucket on my foot, which was quite painful too.
The tricky part came when deciding which charity to donate to. Most people I know had chosen the ALS Association – the US charity for what we in the UK call motor neurone disease – presumably because this was the benefactor of the very first ice bucket challenge. However, UK cancer charity Macmillan has also been asking people to support its cause, perhaps looking to emulate the runaway success of Cancer Research UK’s #nomakeupselfie campaign earlier this year.
This led to a heated debate in a Third Sector comment thread between a member of Macmillan staff and a supporter of the MND Association, a UK charity supporting motor neurone disease sufferers which is also attempting to ride the icy wave. This prompted one commenter to suggest that perhaps a bucket of cold water over everyone’s heads would cool things down.
In the end, I opted for the latter. I thought it was right to continue the challenge in the spirit that it was originally started – by the friend of a motor neurone disease sufferer; but I chose to donate to the MND Association because, as UK charity, it could benefit from Gift Aid.
I also wanted to support a charity which rarely has the opportunity for this kind of publicity. As pointed out in this Huffington Post blog by someone who has the condition, it’s not just about the money but also awareness. Writing a weekly article about an online charity campaign it is impossible not to notice that the most visible ones usually come from the sector’s big hitters, and as Third Sector‘s recent charity brand index shows, cancer charities do already have an extremely high profile.
The ALS and MND associations may not have masterminded the ice bucket challenge, but why not allow them their moment in the sun? That said, the one charity hijacker that I would forgive is WaterAid – who reacted cleverly to protestations that the campaign was a criminal waste of water by suggesting that people donate to their cause instead.
It’s also been argued that people shouldn’t be taking the ice bucket challenge at all – because people aren’t doing it for the "right" reasons, because it’s too popular or because there are better ways of supporting a charity than a one-off donation. There is truth in all of these statements; but I don’t see them as a reason not to do it. Online challenges like these are just one small part of a charity’s fundraising arsenal. It’s a fun, easy way for (predominantly young) people to raise money and awareness for a lesser-known cause – particularly if they are not able to commit to supporting a charity on a regular basis. "Take the ice bucket challenge and set up a direct debit" just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
So steel yourself, recruit a cameraman (or woman) and rise to the challenge – but just make sure you donate.