Why I’m not doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve been nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge 5 times. For 2 of these nominations, the 24 hour time limit for the challenge has passed. This means I’m supposed to donate $100 to support ALS research. Here’s why I won’t be donating to ALSA  or pouring water over my head. 

1) ALS isn’t the best cause to support. I know that thousands of people die from ALS every year and that there’s no cure. Lou Gehrig is one of the few athletes I can name. I read Tuesdays with Morrie before I entered middle school. However, I don’t have a personal reason to donate to ALS. Nor do I have a personal connection to any other cause. Does this mean that I should immediately donate to the cause that’s filling up my newsfeed? I don’t think so. Givewell has a list of the most effective charities, backed by thousands of hours of research. However, most people don’t bother to research before they donate. According to Hope Consulting, only 3 out of every 100 people who donate to charity try and find the “most effective” non-profit. This means charity fundraising has become an advertising competition largely unrelated to the actual work of the charity. 

2) The social media aspect makes me uncomfortable. I’m impressed by the reach of this campaign and how fast it’s spread just through person to person tagging, but I don’t like how it’s largely fueled by people’s egos. (I mean, how could you not “like” an ice bucket challenge video? It’s for a good cause!) In general, I just don’t like the self-promotion aspect of social media. The ice bucket challenge has also caused a lot of people to feel like they’ve done good by dumping water on their head when they could have done much more to help. And by the effect of moral licensing, doing this one act of “good” will make them less likely to do future acts of good will. 

3) I’m a bit of a contrarian. Meaning that, what attracts most people tends to repel me. I don’t see the point in adding another video to the massive stream of videos already on my feed. If the goal is to “spread awareness”, most of my friends have done the challenge already, and I already know a decent amount about ALS. (link to the Wikipedia article)

“But the campaign is still effective!” you say. “It’s raised over 3 million dollars for ALS research!” 

Yes, I realize that. The campaign is also taking money away from other charities that may have used the funds better, which technically gives the fundraiser an overall negative impact. [See: What’s your true impact?]

So. what will I be doing? Not the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not donating to the ALS Association. Instead, I’ll be donating through Givology, the microfinance platform that funds children’s education around the world. I know exactly what their partners have accomplished through working with them this summer, and I know exactly where my money is going and what it’ll be doing, something I can’t say for the ALS Association. 

If you’ve done the challenge, kudos to you for playing your part in spreading the campaign. However, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid charitable acts in the future, and learn how to evaluate the true impact of raising awareness or making a donation.

This post was inspired by the research of 80,000 Hours,an organization dedicated to maximizing impact through one’s career, and whose founder recently wrote this article arguing that the ice bucket challenge has had a negative impact. 


2 thoughts on “Why I’m not doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

  1. ouch, but true. I admit that I definitely did it more for the fun than the charity…I donated $25 but really didn’t think about which charity to donate to. I wish I was as principled as you are.


    • meh, i’ve gotten a decent amount of criticism for this post. But yeah, I’ve been reading a lot on effective altruism. Also, someone showed me this a few days ago


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