Anyone who has two eyes, an Internet connection and a brain capable of processing rapidly moving images has probably, at some point over the last month, seen a video of someone being blanketed with ice cold water. Yes, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has struck everyone from your mother to your neighbor to your favorite celebrity. Though this viral storm has begun to lose its strength, the trend rose over $100 million directed at the ALS Association, which is, of course, dedicated toward curing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. During the same time period last year, this association only received $2.8 million in charitable donations. It is pretty safe to say the Ice Bucket Challenge was an unmitigated success, as well as a brilliant use of social media to do some obvious good.
Of course, contrarians and cynics alike were waiting in the rafters to hurl their criticisms at everyone who thought they had done some good, no matter how small. Several stories swept across social media that accused the ALS Association of flagrantly misleading donors and generally being dastardly. Though some headlines accused the association of wholesale wickedness, the truth behind all this fire and brimstone is that charity watchdogs and other critics thought that ALS was misleading donors because of their division of funds.
According to the ALS Association’s own breakdown of spending, only 28 percent of donations are spent on research, while 19 percent is spent on patient and community services, 32 percent public on professional education, 14 percent on fundraising and 7 percent on administration.
These expenditures don’t exactly sound particularly malicious, but critics of the charity said the association was marketing, especially with the Ice Bucket Challenge, itself as a charity that was dedicated mainly to a cure when only 28 percent of funding would assist with that. Many were particularly annoyed that 7 percent of funding was dedicated to administration.
What many forget, however, is that charities do not survive on sunshine and adorable puppies alone. They are within the private sector, and they must stand on their own revenue — nearly all of which comes from donations. When people hear that a CEO of a charity receives more than a loaf of bread and a cup of orange juice for their trouble, they tend to get a bit upity.
According to Business Week, the median compensation, including bonuses, for a CEO of an American hunger charity receiving upwards of $500,000,000 was $84,028. Compared to what your average CEO makes at American for profit companies, including bonuses, this is chump change.
This isn’t to say that charity CEOs should be diving into pools of money on their weekends. These jobs are obviously low reward for a reason, but they at least attract good-natured businessmen and business tycoons in their twilight years looking to give back. If that administrative number is cut back even more, these companies risk truly having to pick from the bottom of the barrel. Even the most good-natured geniuses among us may not be willing to make that sacrifice when a Fortune 500 company is waving fat stacks in front of them. Also take into consideration that any company needs a strong administrative foundation to successfully execute its programs. In a country in the throes of administrative bloat with many of its organizations and companies, 7 percent is far from abysmal.
Moving on to the other cuts in this pie. ALS spends 32 percent of its budget on public and professional education, but what does this mean? Apparently, if their website is to be believed, it mostly deals with proliferating the ALS Association’s agenda by educating the unaware and pushing for greater support within the legislation. Entire charities — such as the environmental charity, Earthjustice — are dedicated to just this type of agenda. You know why this is? Because awareness breeds interest and interest breeds higher funding for the Association. Furthermore, government research grants are incredibly lucrative and highly competitive. We cannot say for sure, as we are not charity analysts, if the largest chunk of their budget should be dedicated to this sector, but it is equally ludicrous to say that this is not an important task for, by far, the most well-known and powerful ALS charity to tackle.
Then there is the 19 percent spent on patient and community services. There is a grim fact that most do not want to address concerning ALS. What if none of this money being pumped into research matters? What if there is no cure that modern medicine can find and no amount of money can change that? What if are only solution, in this era, is found in the traditional tactics used to prolong the lives of victims and ease their suffering? It seems of paramount importance, then, that these tactics are propagated. This is disregarding the fact that to ignore this facet would be to ignore the current sufferers for the possibility of helping sufferers in the future. It does not seem to be the most utilitarian option.
All in all, it reflects back to one primary point. Once again, the ALS Association is irrefutably the largest ALS charity, and an important part of their function is to concern themselves with all aspects of the disease. A more eclectic charity means they are more likely to do the most good, as opposed to being laser focused on one singular aspect of fighting this disease.
Now this is by no means a demand to cease criticizing charities. We cannot attest that the ALS Association is beyond all reproach, and there are certainly charities, large and small, that have shadowy partnerships. Even charities made of truly good-natured people are subject to blunder. They may overcrowd a specific goal and slow progress; they may crowd out other beneficial programs both from other charities and the government; they may misdirect funds; they may be using an ill thought out methodology to solve hunger; their entire task may be hopeless and fruitless.
Charities have become such an important part of how humans reach out to help the least among them — we cannot simply close our eyes, point and hope our donation goes to the right place. Just as a consumer must be conscious of their purchases, the donor must be conscious of their donation. Kindness is all well and good, but the utilitarian approach is needed; critical thinking and careful research must be employed by the charitable for the sake of the common good.
This is not an attack by any means on critical thinking. This is an attack on the all too familiar waves of the unnecessarily incredulous ‘cynics-for-the-sake-of-cynics’ who get their giggles off trying to slap the concept of kindness across its smiling face. We must not look for disaster or wickedness simply because we expect it and force the conclusion if it does not rear its ugly head. As a certain well-known bard once said, “that way madness lies.”