I did the Ice Bucket Challenge and I don’t get the backlash against it

It’s an imperfect way to fundraise but it’s weird to gripe about it wasting water

If you have any kind of exposure to social media then you have probably seen people having freezing water thrown over themselves in the name of raising money for and awareness of motor neurone disease. You might have been pleased that you can watch say Benedict Cumberbatch, Alistair Darling or even David Lynch doing the challenge. But here’s the video you’ve really been waiting for:

Surprisingly, given the fact that this challenge has raised £4.5 million for MND alone, it has attracted a fair amount of criticism.

There are prima facia reasonable concerns that fundraising gimmicks like this can cannabalise generosity. I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to comment on whether that’s fair or not in general. However, I feel that for me personally I do usually donate money in response to a prompt of some kind and this seems like a pretty effective one.

There are the patently unreasonable complaints of Catholic groups that research into treatments for degenerative illnesses sometimes use stem cells derived from embryos AKA sacrifices single celled organisms kept in freezers in order to help people who are dying unpleasantly.

There are the also unreasonable complaints that this research also uses animal testing but that’s an issue worthy of a blog post in its own right, so I won’t dwell on it here.

What I do want to look at is what seems to me to be a rather strange criticism: that the challenge wastes water. Water Aid issued a press release saying that they had “noticed an increase in donations from people citing the wasted water as a reason to donate to WaterAid in lieu of taking the Challenge.” They go on to suggest that if you do the challenge, then you should do so in “your bath, shower, local lido or swimming pool. You could also leave your bucket outside and wait for it to fill up with rainwater before taking the Challenge.” As it happens I was at my parents’ and was able to use rainwater they’ve been collecting to water the garden with. But if I hadn’t been then I would have been quite happy to use water from the tap.

To be clear, I have no complaints about Water Aid using the challenge to raise awareness of water shortages as doing so is their job. But I do feel that it is silly that waste has become one of the main gripes about the challenge.

Why? Well:

  • it’s rather a stretch to describe using water to raise money for charity as wasting it;
  • while there may be water shortages in many parts of the world, after the wettest winter on record Britain isn’t one of them; and
  • it’s lacking in any sense of proportion. Water Aid claim on their website that the average Brit uses an average of 150 litres of water every day. In that context, whether people on one occasion use one bucketload of water to do the Challenge is basically irrelevant.

So while I can well believe there are better ways to get people to donate to charity, I just can’t see the Challenge as an objectionable way to use a bucket of water.


P.S. Thanks for Mum (Verity Kemp aka the cackling camerawoman) and Dad (Richard Mills) for helping me do the Challenge!

One thought on “I did the Ice Bucket Challenge and I don’t get the backlash against it

  1. I think the most persuasive criticism is that many of the videos feature someone being soaked without reminders about giving to charity, on screen prompts etc – as if it’s all about ‘ooh look at the person get wet’ with the original purpose (raising money for charity) relegated to a forgotten afterthought.

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