Editorial: Don’t just dump water; drown in the causes you love

BlindDonations[2]These days, the only thing more popular than a selfie is a video of ice water poured on someone in the name of charity.

The Ice Bucket Challenge quickly became an Internet trend with celebrities charging the way, but, as with all trends, it has an inevitable expiration date. But should charity ever be considered trendy?

There is no denying a great thing has happened as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The ALS Association, a nonprofit organization that works to find better treatment for the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, announced on Aug. 29 that $100 million has been raised since the first bucket of ice water came raining down on donors.

This disease, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s in reference to the New York Yankee, affects as many as 30,000 Americans at any given time, according to the ALS Association’s website. The need for research that leads to a cure, as demonstrated by the numbers, is obvious. But why do so many people suddenly care?

It may be because household names like Shakira, Katy Perry, Tom Cruise and even President and Chancellor Ken Starr have taken the challenge.

If this is true, then kudos to celebrities for remembering their ability as role models to affect people’s lives. But before we give out all our gold star stickers, maybe we should remember the real heroes in this picture – families and patients who faced the true challenge of fighting ALS long before Mark Zuckerberg got “likes” on his Facebook page for taking the plunge.

This is a disease that, outside of any gimmicks to garner donations, has real lives attached to it in ways that can never be captured in a 30-second YouTube video.

And like many charities that are tied to finding a cures, there are relationships that are important between donor and recipient. Giving whatever small fraction of your salary to a cause says something about the person you are and the things you care about. Being part of a charitable organization is as real a relationship as the ones we forge with the people around us and perhaps they are stronger because their effects are felt in ripples we can never quantify.

What the Ice Bucket Challenge could mean for current and future charities is uncertain. Nonprofits, like any business that seeks to raise funds, have to think in terms of marketing to reach their goals, and a new standard has been created.

Similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Doubtfire Face for Suicide Prevention challenge has taken to Internet videos and hashtags to raise awareness about suicide in honor of actor Robin Williams.

Already 7,000 people have joined the Facebook group and created “Doubtfire Face” videos, in which they toss a pie in their face then nominate others to do the same to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

It seems like a fun way to address a serious problem, but it may also be a way of disconnecting people from the cause.

Perhaps instead of dumping ice cold water on one’s head or taking a pie to the face, people should learn about the diseases, physical or mental, that they are donating to and find out if the way they are contributing is really the best way to help.

While taking action over apathy is an approach we should all strive to live by, here’s a thought: Give to a charity that matters to you and not because you want more views on your YouTube page. Go beyond the hashtag and build a strong relationship with the organization you stand by. It will mean more to you and those you give to in the end.