The Ice Bucket Challenge Done Right

During these dog days of summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has created a sensation on social media, attracting celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and even detractors bent on generating their own buzz. I’m not a spoilsport: I’ve enjoyed the comic video bloopers and the delight of seeing glamorous people drenched alongside your average Josephine. Even the challenge part presents an amusing game of digital tag.

Source: Flickr user Hot Gossip Italia.

Source: Flickr user Hot Gossip Italia.

And it has been an enormous success for the ALS Association. On Friday, it reported $53.3 million in resulting donations. Who could deny the sense of possibility this great windfall brings for the sufferers of that condition and their families? And public consciousness of the disease has certainly skyrocketed this summer. Still, that is serious money, and as a donor you may want to be thoughtful in your charitable giving, beyond getting swept up in a social media trend or responding to a public challenge.

As a donor:

  • Are you concerned about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis? Do you know a family that has been affected by ALS? Have you been moved by stories of ALS patients?
  • How much do you know about the ALS Association? You might research it to understand its approaches to combating ALS, who is leading and managing the organization, and how it’s measuring its effectiveness.
  • The ALS Association fights the disease primarily through scientific research. Do you know enough about ALS to understand the group’s research initiatives? You don’t have to be a science wonk — the organization should provide you enough information in layperson’s language to know what you’re supporting.
  • How will the ALS Association use this enormous influx of resources? The organization’s IRS 990 form, which you can find on its website, shows that in 2013 the organization had income of nearly $25 million. Imagine seeing your organizational budget triple in a number of months. Would you be ready for that? Is the ALS Association?
  • What will the ALS Association do in the future, once this media sensation has faded? If it expands its infrastructure and programs, how does it plan to sustain its giving levels?
  • Is a gift to ALS part of your plan for charitable giving? Does it fall into one of your priority categories? Or do you have a category for giving to opportunities that come up during the year?

Look, I don’t want to pour cold water on anyone’s fun, especially if you are committed to the cause and have found the organization to be high-performing. As a donor, you’re investing in that organization and its mission. You will create the most benefit to the ALS Association if you give in a thoughtful and skillful way. By all means, participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Just be informed about your philanthropy before you go drenching yourself.

Note: This article also appeared on The Motley Fool website.

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