Everybody’s doing this ice bucket challenge thingy. I’m experiencing a pretty powerful emotional reaction against the whole thing, but I’m not entirely sure why. I think it might be because I’m a bit of a dick. I hope not.
Sure, I can come up with plenty of reasons against it, but I know I’m just post-rationalising. That’s what we humans do – we arrive at a conclusion emotionally and then look for evidence that justifies the conclusion we’ve already reached. I know that’s what I’m doing and so, with that knowledge, I can’t realistically make an objective judgement on my own reasonings. So what I’ll do instead is prattle on for a bit about what goes on in my head when I think about it, and we’ll see where it goes. Are you with me? Tough, I’m doing it anyway.
Firstly, the structure of the thing sets off alarm bells all over my head. It’s so carefully designed for maximum spread and maximum exposure that it can only be the work of a marketeer. Now I’m quite strongly opposed to marketing, I think it’s the work of Satan’s devilish economic minions. “Sales” offends me inasmuch as its sole purpose is to get people to spend money on something they wouldn’t otherwise do. But at least the victim understands the process and is willingly part of it (except unsolicited sales approaches, which really should have been made illegal decades ago). Marketing has the same goal but it operates without the victim’s knowledge or consent. Companies spend billions just to associate their name with something that people like, so that they will feel good about the product without knowing why and so are more likely to buy it, regardless of the quality or value of the product. No matter which way you spin it, that’s EVIL.
In the case of the ice bucket challenge, this is evil being used for good. People’s behaviour is being manipulated without their consent, but at least the result is a ton of money for a good cause. And I do believe it’s a good cause – I have seen dissenters on this point but I don’t see enough evidence to make me suspect there’s anything other than a genuine charity going on here. Let’s all agree that ALS is a good charity and that the world would be a better place without Lou Gehrig’s disease. The second point is unarguable, certainly, and I can’t think of a better way to make that happen than to raise money for this charity. So on the whole, I think evil being used for good is a net good in this case. So I’ve talked myself out of that objection.
I’ve seen complaints about wasting water and the frivolity and pointlessness of the act of ice-bucket-tipping, but I hold no truck with that. If you’ve EVER washed your car then you have no right to whinge about wasting water and I have no problem with having a bit of fun on camera. If you’re bored with the flood of videos then don’t watch them – they’re all pretty obviously labelled. So there’s no objection there either.
Next on the I’m-a-tit list is the size of the current campaign. It’s raised millions so far, and that’s brilliant. But doesn’t that mean my donation will be pretty much worthless? Yes, I know you don’t get big numbers without lots of little numbers adding up, but I don’t have any control over other people’s donations, I only have control over my own. And personally, I’d rather see my money go where it’s more likely to make a difference. So my donation’s going to Hounds for Heroes, which is a little charity that trains dogs to help folks injured while serving with the Armed Forces and Emergency Services. Again, I’ll reiterate that ALS *is* a good cause – but I would rather help an equally deserving cause that hasn’t just had a massive windfall.
The next one’s a bit of a delicate subject. I’ve had internal struggles with this for years now over many campaigns, but I don’t voice it because … well … I’m not sure it has any validity whatsoever. But in the spirit of sharing, I’m going to let it out and see what happens. Hey, I can always edit it out later.
So here it is. I don’t like being coerced into giving to somebody else’s charity.
Eeech. There it is. I’ve said it. Does that make me a dick? I’m genuinely concerned it might.
But my dickishness extends further than that. I’m afraid I also object to sponsorship events. If you want to run or cycle or jump off a dolphin or wade through baked beans then you go right ahead and knock yourself out, but please bear in mind you’re doing that because you wanted the challenge. I’m not going to sponsor you for challenging yourself. I will sponsor you to wash my car, clean the streets, go help at an old people’s home or soup kitchen, flash your tits at a homeless chap, ANYTHING that gives benefit to SOMEONE ELSE. That’s what charity is all about.
I feel bad about that attitude, because you’re all doing a nice thing and raising money for charity. I don’t want to take away your warm fuzzy feeling of doing some good for the community. It *is* a good thing and is done for good reasons.
To tackle this issue, I’m going to change how I donate. Now, if you ask me for sponsorship to cycle to Swindon, I’m not going to donate. Instead I’m going to give you money. You’re my friend; if *you* need money, I’d like to think that you would ask me for it, and you have, so I’m going to give it to you. As a gift TO YOU, because you asked for it. If you then choose to give that to your charity, that’s your choice, I don’t want to know. It’s your money now, you can do what you like with it. Don’t tell me.
I am very aware that the above paragraph seems to increase my bell-endery quite considerably, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Nothing changes, the money follows exactly the same path. Why is it different? I don’t think it is. I think that rephrasing it this way merely casts a different light on the original process and so creates a feeling of discomfort about it. That’s the discomfort I’ve been struggling with for the past ten years.
But still my dickitude continues. I’m not convinced that raising money for charity in these ways actually does what we think it does. With the last few big social media campaigns (like the ice bucket / naked selfie etc.) you would expect to see an overall rise in charitable donations, wouldn’t you? I would. But I’m not sure that’s happened. It’s tricky to find the truth amongst the interwebular flood of unreliable statistics, and I can’t rule out selection bias in my research (i.e. I only *see* the evidence that supports the conclusion I’ve already made and subconsciously ignore the rest) but, for what it’s worth, here’s what it looks like to me.
This article shows (I think) that inflation-adjusted donations haven’t seen an increase up to 2011: http://data.ncvo.org.uk/a/almanac12/what-are-the-main-trends-in-charitable-giving/
This article shows that giving increased in 2012/13 but is still lower than 2010/11: http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/uk-charitable-giving-increased-11bn-104bn-2012-13/fundraising/article/1287302
This paper from the government contains lots of data about tax relief that we can’t really deduce anything from, but I think there’s something relevant on page 17: “Figure 3.2: Tax Repayments to Charities on Gift Aid Donations from Individuals”: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/324070/Commentary.pdf
If I’m interpreting that correctly, it shows that gift aid donations stopped rising in 2011 and have either stayed constant or dropped ever since.
Even if we take a recession into account, I believe this shows that charitable donations from individuals aren’t increasing AT ALL because of these new massive campaigns.
So what does this mean? Well, I’ve often suspected that people have, in their subconscious, a “bucket” that they earmark for charitable donations. If they find themselves donating more money in one month, they’ll be less likely to donate the next month. I don’t think this is a conscious process, but I do believe it’s a *real* one. I know I haven’t put anything in a collecting tin for years, whereas I used to do it all the time. I’m still *giving*, of course, but I’m giving it in different ways now. The extra ways to give and the extra number of things cloying for my money haven’t significantly increased the overall amount of my giving.
This opens up the trickiest point of all, and I’m really not comfortable saying this, but it’s going out there because I genuinely believe it’s true.
When we raise money for a charity, we’re not obtaining *extra* money for charity. We’re DIVERTING FUNDS from other charities. If you believe what I’ve said so far, this is an inescapable conclusion. Overall donations aren’t going up, so if one campaign (e.g. ALS) works extremely well, the money MUST come from potential donations that would otherwise have been made to other charities. One charity goes up, the others come down.
So that’s where my head is, and that’s why I’m rejecting my nomination for the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m not sure if any of my ramblings are actually valid or not, but they seem like they are in my head. They always do, until someone points out the woolly thinking. Over to you.
Now I’m off to see if flashahobo.com is available…