Cold war: charity defends itself against ice-bucket challenge criticism

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Picture credit: Rauglothgor

As the ice bucket challenge craze sweeps the world, cancer charity Macmillan denies it has cashed in at the expense of other causes

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26th August 2014 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Water wars have broken out over charities benefiting from the ice bucket challenge craze.

The stunt that sees people douse themselves in ice cold water and donate to a charity while nominating others to do the same is sweeping the globe, powered by social media.

Celebrities such as David Beckham and Lady Gaga have taken part – as have Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and his Better Together rival Alistair Darling.

The phenomena’s origins are obscure – but many have come to associate it with fundraising for motor neuron disease charities after US golfer Chris Kennedy took part as his wife’s cousin suffers from the condition.

This led to £37.7million being raised for the US ALS Association and lesser amounts for the Motor Neuron Disease Association (MNDA) and MND Scotland.

However, there has been some criticism after cancer charity Macmillan launched a very effective bid for donations based on the ice bucket challenge.

The group has been accused of "muscling in" on the phenomena, prompting a barrage of negative comments from social media users, including calls for a boycott.

The Times newspaper quoted an MNDA source as saying: “Of course we’re both trying to fund cures for diseases, but we’re much smaller. We’d rather a big charity didn’t come swooping in and take our funding away. We don’t have the resources they do.”

We understand there are many other charities that are close to people’s hearts and we hope many charities will see a real fundraising boost from this

Macmillan, which has reportedly earned over £250,000 so far, strenuously denies it is trying to cash in.

It said it noticed the phenomena developing two months ago – and simply and legitimately positioned itself to benefit.

Macmillan said the craze first came to its attention when fundraisers appeared online for the Auckland Division of the Cancer Society of New Zealand amongst others.

TFN understands that Macmillan began discussing the challenge inside the organisation in early July and had begun promoting it to its supporters shortly after – before the craze had gripped and had been endorsed by celebrities.

After that, Macmillan’s efforts were overshadowed by the stream of high-profile stunts taking place, mostly for ALS/MND – leading to confusion about Macmillan’s role.

It is also believed the charity was prompted into action after it was criticised for how slow it was to react to the last online fundraising craze – the no make-up selfie.

A spokesperson for Macmillan said: “Unfortunately there has been some confusion about how Macmillan got involved in this challenge.

“We began telling our supporters about it in July after spotting it happening in New Zealand for multiple charities, including cancer charities.

“This was before the challenge really hit the headlines when big celebrities in America began taking on the challenge for ALS.

“We’ve been astounded at how popular the challenge has been and how many people have wanted to raise money for charities by dousing themselves in ice water.

“We’re very grateful to those who have taken part for Macmillan. We rely almost entirely on public donations to fund our work and the money donated will help us fund more support for people with cancer.

“Of course we understand there are many other charities that are close to people’s hearts and we hope many charities will see a real fundraising boost from this.”

Joe Saxton, founder at third sector consultancy nfpSynergy, says the issue is not that some charities might lose out to others but that many people don’t know which charity the ice bucket challenge is for at all.

He said: “Most people probably have no idea who the ice bucket challenge is for at all so the biggest loss is to ignorance not to other charities. It doesn’t help that it’s called ALS in the US and motor neurone disease in this country.

“The other big issue is that most of this is not a planned campaign at all in the UK, it’s not like Race for Life or The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning which are planned for months.

“The ice bucket challenge is totally spontaneous and when a challenge such as this goes viral, it’s hard for any organisation to hang on to its coat tails.”