Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank You, but No.

The Captain will not be accepting your “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Thank you for thinking of me, but no. I will not be dumping a bucket of ice water over my head, and I will not be writing a check to ALSA for $100.

For those of you who have been hiding under a rock of recent, let me explain. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is an impromptu fundraiser for the ALS Association, intended to raise awareness and money for research in the fight to cure Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It is widely known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, after the great baseball player who succumbed to the disease in 1941 at age 37.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Gradual loss of all voluntary muscle control follows until the person is completely paralyzed, with death being the ultimate outcome.

It is a terrible disease, and worthy of your support toward finding a cure. But I will not be writing a check today.

I have watched your IBC videos with amusement. Some are quite clever – from Charlie Sheen dumping a bucket containing $10,000 cash over his head (which he claims he donated to ALSA) to Sir Patrick Stewart calmly writing a check (presumably to ALSA) then retrieving a couple cubes from his ice bucket for his Scotch.  

This charitable phenomenon has sparked a creative fire in me, I will admit. I have thought of a half-dozen great IBC videos for the Captain to star in. But I won’t make them because I am not participating.

Because we like lists, here are seven reasons why I am not participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

1)    Bandwagons. Those who know me know that I don’t jump on every bandwagon that passes through town. I try to be intentional about what I do. I do my research, and then I try to make an informed decision. What I have found lacking from so many of the IBC videos is an explanation of what ALS is and why ALSA needs my money. Many refer to ALSA as “a worthy cause”, but few show any hint of knowledge about the disease or the organization. It’s as though the dumping of ice water onto someone is the important part of this campaign. It’s not. It’s about fundraising. It’s about awareness.

2)    Water. More than 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. More than 3.4 million people died each year due to water, sanitation, and hygiene-related issues. What’s more, a persistent drought in the southwestern portion of the United States is creating significant issues here as well. I know that a five-gallon bucket of ice water is not going to change any of that, but it seems callous to intentionally waste even that much water for the sport of fundraising.
3)    Research. What do we really know about the ALS Association? According to its annual reports, in 2012 only 7.71% of their budget was spent on research; administration and fundraising accounted for another 28.65%. In 2013 it reported 9.3% of its budget went to research. But in the January 2014 report, the research budget jumped suspiciously miraculously to 28%. I’m still looking for an answer to how ALSA can increase its research budget by 3X without significantly affecting its bottom line.

4)    Accountability. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” was not initiated by ALSA. To date, the association has reaped an unexpected windfall of $80 million and counting – which is more than its annual budget. Now the association must decide what to do with these unrestricted funds. Yes, “unrestricted”. ALSA can spend your donation any way it chooses. I have no reason to believe they won’t handle it responsibly. But realizing this is a one-time opportunity, some on the board would like to invest the money to undergird a woefully underfunded endowment to provide for the future. Others, remembering how generous people were to the Red Cross after 9-11 and how the Red Cross received a “black eye” for choosing to hold some of that money for “future needs” instead of applying it all to the 9-11 recovery efforts, feel the need to spend it now. But simply throwing 10X more money at research this year is not good stewardship and is not necessarily going to help arrive at a cure any faster.  

5)    Balance. Why ALS? ALS is identified in 5,600 people per year, usually Caucasian males between the ages of 40 and 70. Half of those will live three or more years after diagnosis; ten percent will live more than ten years after diagnosis. But compare that to Sickle Cell Anemia (just to use one example), another (presently) incurable disease, but one that more commonly affects African-American men. SCA affects about one in every 500 African-American births, or some 70-100,000 persons per year. Due to improved treatment and care, a person born with SCA can expect to live into their mid-40s. Relatively speaking, the need seems to be greater and more urgent for Sickle Cell Anemia research, but I don’t see anyone dumping ice water over their heads for this disease. How many other organizations would also like a donation from you?

6)    Money. I tithe to my church. I financially support a local organization that provides food, shelter, and financial support to needy families in our community. I send donations to a couple charitable organizations in Memphis which I know do good work in areas about which I am passionate. I am constantly being hit up to support the local schools, the local firefighters, the local sheriff’s office, the local Girl Scouts, etc. And because of my job, I regularly find myself filling up a stranger’s gas tank or buying him lunch. In any given household budget, there is only so much money available for charitable work. No amount of public shaming challenging will change that reality.
7)    Cold Water. The Captain will never intentionally dump a bucket of ice water over his head!

"Humbuggery," you say. "It's just a fun way to raise money for a worthy cause."

Perhaps. But think about the points above as you fill up your bucket of ice water. Are you really achieving what you intend to do? Is there another way? Perhaps a better way?

I am not at all saying you should not donate to ALSA – if that is what you want to do.

I am not at all saying you should not dump a bucket of ice water over your head – if that is what you want to do.

I am simply saying I will not.

Thank You, but No.