Beyond the Pail

It may be water torture for some, but the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is everywhere these days.

For the uninitiated, the charitable campaign is promoting awareness about ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s disease – by encouraging people to film themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads and then challenging others to do the same within the next 24 hours. When they dry off a bit, participants are expected to donate $10 to ALS research. Those who don’t get all wet are urged to donate $100 to the cause.

The campaign has caught lightning in a bucket. It left the viral phase some time ago and has now entered pandemic territory. The Ice Bucket Challenge is all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social media platform you can find and it has worked its way into the mainstream media, as well, with celebrities, politicians, sports stars and pretty much everyone you’ve heard of taking part.

The success of the campaign is not entirely surprising. The Ice Bucket Challenge is easy to do, it’s fun to watch, it’s highly interactive and it’s been very effective in raising awareness about ALS and funds for ALS research (over $70 million so far).

Nonetheless, there are critics who are pouring cold water on the idea. Some think there are better, more deserving causes. Others have blasted it for being trivial or dubbed it “slacktivism.” And many have called out the campaign for wasting clean water when so many in the world don’t have clean drinking water. In addition, some very valid concerns have been expressed about doing the Ice Bucket Challenge safely. These came after a number of injuries – and even a fatality – occurred while performing the challenge. (Please do it safely! Don’t use buckets that are too heavy or do it anywhere near power lines).

As the Managing Director of a smaller charity, the campaign has my full respect. It is incredibly difficult to raise funds in an increasingly competitive charitable marketplace. It’s also really hard to come up with ideas that are different but effective in raising awareness, as well as funds.

Indeed, the Ice Bucket Challenge craze has prompted me to consider how my charity can ride this tidal wave of giving and charitable awareness. How can we piggy back onto this? What can we do that is different from the Ice Bucket Challenge but similar enough to catch on and gain popularity? I’m not sure if I have the answer or the next big campaign but the phenomenon has provided some great food for thought.

So, no, I won’t be among those critics that are giving the Ice Bucket Challenge the cold shoulder.

But I would like to issue my own challenge to whoever reads this: I’d like you to seriously examine your charitable involvement. Do you give of your time and your money as much as you’d like to causes that are important to you? Do you budget time and money for the charities in your life?

If you’re not sure about the answers to those questions, here are some steps to help you give wisely and truly make a difference to charities you care about:

1) Pick a Cause – This may seem obvious, but many people don’t choose charities to support as much as they let the charities choose them. Do you actively pick the charities you support or are you just responding to campaigns and events that come up? If you’d like to be more proactive about your causes, start by identifying what’s important to you. Maybe you are a sports fan or a lover of the arts. Maybe there is a disease that impacted your family or friends. Perhaps there is a social cause that tugs at your heartstrings. (Or maybe you’re a supporter of first responders!) It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s important to you and something you feel strongly about.

2) Pick a Charity – After you’ve identified what cause or causes you’re into, work on selecting a charity or non-profit that reflects your passion for that cause. Do a bit of research and find out what kind of work is being done by charities you’re interested in. What does the charity actually do? How does it spend its money? Feel free to contact them and ask questions. Most charities love to share their success stories and engage supporters about what they need help with. After you’ve done your research, narrow the field and pick one or a few charities that you really identify with.

3) Determine How You Can Help – Some people like to give money. Others like to give of their time and/or expertise. What do you have to offer? If it’s time, contact your charity about volunteering. Perhaps you can help with specific events or ongoing operations. Maybe you can only volunteer a few times a year or maybe you can help more often. If you’d like to make a donation, find out the best way to do it – do you want to donate once a month or once a year? When you’re planning your involvement, budget it. Budget your donations on a monthly or annual basis. Set a financial target for your contributions or set a number of hours that you’d like to volunteer for your charity. When volunteer opportunities arise, put them in your day planner.

4) Act – You’ve searched for a charity you believe in. You’ve identified it and researched it. You’ve set realistic donation and volunteer targets. Now there’s only one thing left to do. Take action! Contact your charity about making a donation or volunteering. You’d be amazed by how little of your time and money can go a long way.

5) Encourage Others to Act – No, you don’t have to get all preachy. But if you find a charity that you love supporting, let others know about it. Let people know what you like about the charity you support and what you get out of donating and volunteering. Giving is infectious!

The bottom line is to get involved. That’s what all the drenched Ice Bucket Challengers have done, to varying degrees. Maybe you don’t want to get wet and that’s fine but you can help. One drop at a time, you can help your favourite charity fill its bucket and make waves in your community.

Written by Ian Wilson, the Managing Director of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF). The JPMF is a registered charity committed to keeping first responders safe on the job. If you throw a bucket of water over Ian’s head, he won’t complain. But he might ask you for a donation.