The phenomenon that is the “Ice Bucket Challenge” – August 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

A big load of fundraising fun, or a self promoting daft stunt?

Kate Sweeney – MASS Manchester Regional Co-ordinator/Partner & Head of Injury Department, Stephensons Solicitors LLP

Regardless of your own personal views, one can’t deny the fact that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is sweeping the nation, nay, the world!

Fuelled by social media, this summer fundraising challenge started across the pond only a couple of months ago, and has gone viral.

But is the idea, the origins of which are not clear, simply a self promoting act of blatant PR? Is it, as Peter Robinson recently wrote in the Guardian “simply a celebrity wet t-shirt contest that has nothing to do with charity”?

Initially involving high profile individuals, celebrities, athletes, politicians and now everyday folk like us, the challenge involves daring the nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of iced water poured over their heads, whilst nominating new participants (including name dropping those even more famous than yourself!) who are then required to do similar within 24 hours, or donate. But really the idea is to do both, and to make further nominations, so the fun(?) and fundraising, just keeps going!

Whether people actually do donate, and remember the purpose of the challenge is to raise money (a fact often glanced over in the videos) primarily for ALSA (in the States), and MNDA (in the UK), is not clear, but the statistics produced by these organisations are very clear, donations to the charities have soared, along with public awareness of this previously, rather anonymous condition.

Having lost an Uncle to Motor Neurone Disease, I was very personally aware of this terrible condition and the impact it has on the lives of those affected and their loved ones. And, as such, I was more than willing to participate in this challenge, but it is the speed, intensity and way it has gripped the nation that has fascinated me. Is it solely down to the power of social media? Or is it for some other reason that it has captured the world’s attention?

Is it purely fun, philanthropic fundraising, or is it something more? Something base, something quite vain? Wanting your five minutes of fame? For everyday folk does it make you feel a little bit famous, whilst doing something with a good social purpose? And for those of celebrity status, is it the appeal of doing something “ordinary” and quite exposing. How often do you see Kate Moss looking like a drowned rat? And, of course, a totally justifiable reason for David Beckham once again, to go shirtless. Who’s complaining?

And can you say “no” to this challenge? Criticism has been aired relating to the campaign, accusing it of focussing more on fun than fundraising, drawing attention away from other needy charities and “cannibalizing” potential donations that would have gone to other charities.

And there has also been huge criticism targeted at how much water is wasted, culminating in one celebrity (Matt Damon) using toilet water in his challenge to highlight the scarcity of clean water in developing countries and of the drought suffered in his own state, California.  Residents in Henan, China also protested against “The Challenge”, themselves suffering a terrible drought.

So not everyone is behind this challenge, but as I write, this cultural phenomenon is very much still in full swing, with more celebrities signing up to douse themselves, some even begging for nominations on Twitter! But it will inevitably end, maybe as fast as it started? Who knows?

But I say “enjoy it while it lasts” – I’m sure those charities associated with the challenge will make the most of the following before it reaches tipping point, and the craze starts to wane, as inevitably it will.

And for those who haven’t yet participated, go grab your buckets!

ASPIRE is MASS’s charity for 2013/2014, so please feel free to undertake your challenge in aid of this wonderful charity.