On the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ice bucket challenge has gone viral on the internet and may raise $100 million for the ALS Foundation. Curing a disease is a worthy endeavor but there is a lot more to consider when giving to charity. ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain and the body, an awful, unstoppable death. There are approximately 5,600 new cases a year in the United States compared to an estimated 96,830 expected new cases of colon cancer this year. The ALS Foundation has funded research for thirty years and there is no cure in sight. Medical research is not $100 million away from a cure if there is even a cure. Contrasted to colon cancer, there are curatives and early screenings that promote positive, long-term outcomes from a colon cancer diagnosis.

This newly-raised money for ALS will not be spent immediately. Some of the funds may be spent on “awareness” but there really is no need for awareness because of the success of the challenge. Further, ALS does not spend money on patient care because their focus is research. There are charities, small and usually local, that help with patient care of chronic diseases but the ALS Foundation is not that type of charity.

Most if not all of these funds will be back-loaded. Because medical research is better understood as a decade’s long project, paying for a year’s worth of research is useless. To commit funds for a decade’s worth of study is a process fraught with a lot of negative possibilities including no positive outcomes. Imagine giving a significant amount of money for disease research and being told after ten years “we know x, y and z aren’t possible cures and the elimination of x, y, and z furthers our understanding of the science.” Many givers do not wish to pay for the elimination of non-cures when they thought they were paying for possible cures. The science is correct but the expectations of the givers is contradictory. Nonetheless, ALS Foundation is funding research and legitimate research is going forward.

The most prominent concern is the set amount of charity households donate each year. If money is given to ALS Foundation that normally would have gone to a food bank or a social action advocacy group, then the food bank and the advocacy group are out of luck this year. The truth is that the pot of donated funds is not an ever expanding amount. Based on the economy and the wherewithal of the middle class, the amounts given every year will wax or wane. Even though the tax credit on the IRS Form 1040 rewards giving, if the discretionary income is not available, then the household will not be able to give or give as much. The end result will be that the smaller charities will lose income.

Giving to charity is one of the highest of obligations and every dollar can make a difference. The responsibility of the donor is to make sure that every dollar he or she gives counts.

By Glenn Jacob

Rabbi, Community Leader, Fundraiser, Board Development, Non-profit management, strategic planning, educator, writer, and editor.

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