Ice bucket challenge: the financial impact

Sarah Coles
Horse Racing - 2014 Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival - Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes Day - York Racecourse
Horse Racing - 2014 Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival - Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes Day - York Racecourse

We're rapidly getting to the point where absolutely everyone has now done the ice bucket challenge.

Social media is now wall-to-wall videos of people dousing themselves in cold water - in fact an estimated 2.8 million of them - and there's a growing backlash of people sick of the sight of them.

Why the challenge?

The challenge was actually set up to support the ALS Association in the US, an organisation that raises money to research into a cure for ALS and to support sufferers. Part of the idea was to raise awareness of ALS (also known as Motor Neurone Disease), a disease where parts of the nervous system become damaged, causing progressive weakness throughout the body.

The trend began in the US in the spring, but grabbed people's imaginations when Justin Bieber took part in the early summer. Since then everyone from Bill Gates to Ed Balls and Victoria Beckham have taken part.

What has it done?

The challenge has certainly achieved more awareness of the disease. Normally the MND Association in the UK gets around 300,000 hits a year on its website - during the ice bucket challenge it received this on some individual days.

It also aimed to raise money, and again it has achieved this. The ALS Association has received more than $100 million. As Forbes points out, that compares to $2.5 million in the entirety of 2013. Meanwhile, the MND Association received £6 million in donations. It said in a statement: "As a relatively small charity, this has been an historic fortnight. Last year we received an average of 13,000 donations a month. From the ice bucket challenge alone we have now had over 700,000 donations. Challenges are still being held and money continues to pour in. Thank you everyone.

"The response to the Ice Bucket Challenge has been truly phenomenal and is still continuing, raising an unprecedented amount of money that will have a huge impact on the work we can do on this poorly understood but devastating disease and also raising awareness across the UK and the world." It also set up a text donation service, so people can text ICED55 £5 (or any other amount) to 70070.

As the challenge spread, increasingly people have been choosing to nominate an alternative charity to receive the money from their challenge. As people complained about the water being wasted by the challenge, they donated to Water Aid - according to the BBC that included £47,000 in one day alone.

Other charities that have benefited have included Macmillan Cancer Support which has received £3 million. It has set up a campaign page to encourage people to use the challenge to raise money for the charity, and made it easy by enabling people to donate £3 by texting ICE to 70550 (or wimp out and donate £10 by texting FINE to 70550).


However, the many critics point out that it has had its flaws. In the first instance, not everyone who has taken part has donated. There are a few versions of the challenge: in some people get wet and donate, in another they either donate or they take the challenge - in which case the videos you see are of people choosing not to donate (or taking the challenge in order to donate less).

Some people have argued that the challenge should have been used to raise money for more organisations - in the US the ALS Association has also been criticised for the large salaries paid to executives. There are those who have chosen to take matters into their own hands and donated to their favourite cause - but clearly this isn't always the case.

And finally, there are those who argue that those who have taken part have been purely doing so for the attention. In many ways it mirrors the nomakeupselfie trend earlier this year which was criticised for its narcissism, but eventually raised more than £8 million for Cancer Research UK in six days.

Does it matter?

The question is whether all that matters, or whether the good the ice bucket challenge has achieved makes none of this matter. Douglas Graham, the MND Association's fundraising director, told the Guardian: "The backlash is to be expected, but really this is just a wonderful windfall and we're so grateful. We didn't see it coming but suddenly last Thursday the donations just started." The boost is an enormous help to a small charity looking after sufferers of a debilitating, little understood disease that has no cure and kills five people a day in the UK."

But what do you think?

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Watch: Celebrities Take The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Watch: Celebrities Take The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge