Cold Truth About ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Attention On Participants, Not Charity

Illustration by Mikey Cornwell
Illustration by Mikey Cornwell

Look at the camera, say a few names, dump a bucket of ice water over your head and raise awareness for the incurable disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

While the ice bucket challenge is an excellent way to put the “fun” in fundraising, is it really the best way to spread awareness? In a recent poll conducted by the British newspaper The Independent, 53 percent of people who completed the challenge did not know what cause it was supporting, let alone what ALS is.

According to, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It causes motor neurons in the body to deteriorate and whenever the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost. Patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed and die. Physicist Steven Hawking has a form of ALS, as did baseball player Lou Gehrig.

However, since ALS is a rare disease with only two out of every 100,000 people being afflicted, the question of whether or not this is the most important charity to be funding at the moment comes to mind. Compared to diseases such as breast cancer, which one in eight women will develop over her lifetime, the answer is no.

The main problem here is what is called “funding cannibalism.” On average, people limit how much they donate to good causes, so if someone donates $100 to ALS, he or she will be less likely to donate to other charities later in the year. Now imagine how much other charities have lost from the $98.2 million that was donated to ALS between July 29 and Aug. 28.

Not all who did the challenge donated. According to The Independent, 56 percent of challenge participants said that they did not donate to ALS afterwards, while over one third said they did the challenge just to gain attention on social media. One in 10 claimed that they completed the challenge only because they felt pressured after receiving a nomination.

“I heard that you’re supposed to donate $100 if you don’t complete the challenge, but not everyone can do that,” junior Valerie Jones said. “I think that overall the challenge was stupid because if you’re not donating, you’re not really helping.”

Personally, I have seen quite a few videos of people misstating the acronym (is it ALS, ASL or SAL?) and a couple of videos where people did not even mention ALS.

“I think the challenge went viral because it was a fun challenge that anyone could do, [it] makes you laugh [and] makes you feel good,” history teacher Robert Stohlman said. He was nominated by his wife to complete the ice bucket challenge.

The ALS association does get major points for creativity; the challenge is like a giant game of would-you-rather. The most annoying thing about the challenge is that it makes narcissism as unselfishness. While the viewers of the videos think that the participants are doing their part to give to the cause, they may be sitting on their iPhones, counting the number of “likes” that they are receiving.

Although there are several informational videos on the internet about ALS, it is unsurprising that viewers would much rather watch more entertaining or comedic videos of celebrities completing the challenge.

Nevertheless, ALS has had its fair share of positive influence. In India, where citizens were a lot less eager to waste water, the rice bucket challenge was born. The directions are as simple as the ice bucket challenge: fill a bucket with rice but, instead of pouring the rice on your head, give it to the hungry.

Sure, videos of friends, family, strangers and celebrities reacting to water being dumped on them is amusing, but only time will tell whether the challenge helped find a cure for the disease or if the ice bucket challenge only burned out like other fads like #Kony2012.