ice-bucketSo there are a few things I’d like to square away before I get into this. First of all, if you don’t want to donate to ALS after someone nominates you for the Ice Bucket Challenge then that’s fine. There are a number of factors that might be at play; you might not be financially secure enough to have the means, you might have another favorite charity that is closer to you, you might literally just not feel like it. All of that is fine. I might take issue with the last one, but that’s something to hash out on a personal level. Nobody can force you to donate to something you don’t want to and that’s not what this is about.

What this is about are the people who are actively going out of their way to explain the reasons that donating to ALS is a bad thing to do. Whatever excuse you come up with: saying that it’s a rare disease and we should donate to something more common, that some of the organizations in question have wasteful spending habits, that people are wasting water, or just that you’re just sick of people jumping on the bandwagon. No matter what reason you give, when you’re telling someone that they shouldn’t be doing something to raise awareness for a disease and donating to charity, you’re being an asshole.

So, first of all a concession: it is entirely possible that there are more worthy causes (to you) than ALS. Let’s get something straight, a LOT of the people donating right now to ALS as part of the trend wouldn’t be donating to anything else if this wasn’t going on. So when you’re out there shitting on the trend and the people doing the challenge, what you’re actually doing is encouraging them to do nothing instead. Let’s face it: this is a social media trend like Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake and Gallon Smashing. Good portions of the people doing this are those people. Some of these people probably haven’t made any sort of charitable action or donation in quite some time (sadly I’m forced to generalize here, according to this source about 62% of Americans reported some level of charitable donation in 2013, although it doesn’t mention how much they donated or if they’re lying on their tax returns). So, you’re encouraging the same people who were smashing a gallon of milk onto the ground for no good reason to stop donating to charity (or even if they’re not donating and just doing the challenge, still raising awareness for a charity). If they listen to you, they will just move on to the next stupid social media craze that has no social benefit to anyone at all. They won’t suddenly become champions of whatever cause you think is more worthy. They’ll just go back to doing nothing and taking selfies.

One of the most common complaints that I read about the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it is wasteful of fresh water (something I actually agree with and is the reason that I didn’t actually pour water on my head when I took the challenge, I instead donated to thewaterproject.org). Now, I’ll admit that there is some degree of waste when someone takes the challenge, however to all the people who are complaining about this part (and not actually donating or doing anything about it) I ask you these questions: do you separate your laundry by colour? Do you have a dishwasher? Do you leave the water running when you do dishes? Do you take more than 3 showers a week? Wash your car? Swim in a swimming pool? Been to a water park? Guess what, if you answer yes to any of these questions you also waste water. Except your waste isn’t actually helping a cause. You’re just being a hypocrite.

Another complaint going around is that ALS doesn’t kill that many people so we should focus our charitable intentions to other causes. Specifically, this graph floats around:Donating.vs.Death-Graph.0

Now, let’s forget for a moment that the source at the bottom says 2011 and all of the dates mentioned are after 2011. That might just be a fuck up. The thing that it doesn’t factor in is the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS greatly skews the numbers in ways that it will likely never replicate (charities involved are saying that they are receiving between 9 and 10 times the amount they did last year).

Also, the disease doesn’t impact that many people. It doesn’t mean it’s not terrible. Losing control of all of your muscles including your respiratory functions in the span of 3 to 5 years is fucking awful. Only 4% of people who have it will live more than 10 years. Because not THAT many people have it, it’s not that big of a deal to look for a cure (it’s logistically challenging to expend resources on something that is not wide spread) . When only 30,000 people have it in the United States, it makes sense that other causes will likely get more exposure and subsequently more money (on the average, like I said, the Ice Bucket thing is probably a one off, I doubt the internet will remember ALS this time in 2015). So yeah, not that many people die from ALS, but nearly everyone with ALS dies from it. I guess that graph must feel pretty good about itself now.

By a similar token the number 1 and number 2 most donated causes are breast and prostate cancer. These are two of the most treatable (but also most common) types of cancer, so they’re not going to reflect very much on a chart using death toll as a metric, since they are highly treatable/curable (over 98% survival rate on both of them if they’re caught early enough). That doesn’t mean they’re getting too much though, since they’re also super common. The famous “1 in 7” for prostate cancer, with over 233,000 new cases a year and “1 in 8” for similar numbers for breast cancer.

In conclusion, amount donated vs number of mortalities is a dumb metric on one hand and on the other not donating to something because not a lot of people have it is dumb logic. By that logic we shouldn’t waste money making buildings accessible to those with disabilities since not a lot of people are actually in wheelchairs, or we shouldn’t spend money on teaching kids with special needs since they’re a minority too. That’s the same logic at work.

Another big one is “that money isn’t being spent the way you think it is” as seen here (I’ll be referencing this article for the next little bit, so feel free to check it out). This is an article circulating highlighting the supposed wasteful spending of the ALSA.

To begin with, the author is bad at math. According to the pie chart, the revenues totalled $26.3 million where the author states revenues were $24 million. Next, if you add up all of the figures for salary, pension, benefits and travel, you end up with 11.2, not 12.5. So right away, we’re looking at 11.2 of 26.3 and not 12.5 of 24. Again, I just added up the numbers the author provided. So 42% operating costs instead of over 50%. Under normal circumstances when I’m reading an article that is taking liberties with same facts that were presented a line earlier I just stop reading since it’s clearly a sign of a biased article. In this case though I’m going to talk about a few of these numbers with a little bit of context that might help stymie the outrage of seeing these figures.

The first most common complaint is that not enough money goes directly to research. That’s a fair criticism I guess. One of the big issues with donating to nearly any charity is that often you have no control of exactly how it’s spent within the realm of that charity. Well, except that when I donated over at alsa.org, I totally did have that control:

See the check box over there where you can decide if your money goes to research? Maybe click that if you want your money to go to research. Just sayin'...

See the check box over there where you can decide if your money goes to research? Maybe click that if you want your money to go to research. Just sayin’…

Next are those pesky executive salaries.  It’s incredibly difficult to get a bead on exactly what a CEO is supposed to be paid (I just spent about an hour trying to do so), however I did find this article that might serve as at least a counterpoint to the claim that these salaries are outrageous for a charitable organization.  Let’s remember that this is an organization that is bringing in over $25 million in donations (or revenue) a year. So it’s fair to consider it a multi-million dollar company. Wouldn’t you want the person helming this company to be a) competent and b) compensated? It’s a little hard to see for some reason but take a look at the chart labeled “Median CEO Total Compensation by Company Revenue as a % of Overall Median”.  I know, it’s a tiny chart. For a company that generates $25 to $49.9 million (like the ALSA) in revenue, the median CEO salary is just under 100% of the overall median. The overall media is $362,900. So Jane Gilbert is making a little less than what she would be able to make if she was working elsewhere (she’s making $339,475 according to that report). Yes, she’s making a lot of money. But the reality is that Gilbert is taking some $40,000 a year pay cut to run a charity. You might not agree with it, but she could be making more money elsewhere running another company.

Similarly the author calls into question the $500,000 of spending on pensions and employee benefits, that the author has the audacity to put in quotation marks: are you really saying that people who devoted their lives to working for a charity don’t deserve any benefits or pension?

That article brushes off $4 million dollars for non-employee labour without a thought. What kind of people are they paying who aren’t employees? FromWikipedia:

The ALS Association selects, certifies and supports distinguished regional institutions recognized as the best in the field with regard to knowledge of and experience with ALS; and which have neurological diagnostics and imaging, and available on-site licensed and certified ancillary services on clinic days including (but not limited to):

           Physical therapy
           Occupational therapy
           Respiratory therapy
           Nursing
           Registered dietician services
           Ph.D. psychology or psychiatry
           Speech and language pathology
           Social Work

Yeah, that sounds like wasteful spending to me. Deduct that $4 million from the $11.2 the author uses to represent wasteful spending and you have $7.2 million of $26.2 million spent on operating costs. Which means that just over 72% of the money raised is actually going to charitable expenses. 27% internal operating costs isn’t that bad.

Finally, I see a lot of “I’m sick of the Ice Bucket Challenge being the only thing on my Facebook wall.” Really? Who are you that your Facebook wall was a well of interesting and thoughtful information? When my Facebook wall gets full of people doing acts of charity instead of just pictures of food, cute cats, upworthy and 9gag reposts and people complaining about their jobs I actually find it sort of refreshing. Those posts will be back soon enough and this is a nice change of pace, not to mention that it’s charitable.

So yeah, if you don’t want to participate in the challenge, don’t do it. If someone nominates you and you don’t want to participate just say “I’ll give somewhere else” or “I can’t afford it right now” or whatever else you might have for a reason. But seriously, don’t go spending your time shitting on the people that do because you come off like an asshole and whatever reason you come up with is probably a flimsy justification at best. Trying to justify why other people shouldn’t give to a charity is sort of the worst thing ever. Sure, the charity might not be perfect, but I’m willing to bet that few charities are.

Here’s an idea: let people donate money wherever they want to. Use this current trend to maybe highlight other charities so that people might carry that wave of giving into other causes. If someone nominates you for the Ice Bucket Challenge just say “Hey, ALS is serious but they’ve made a lot of money, I’m giving to X instead” or whatever. Just try to not to shit on people who are doing what is generally an overall positive thing. It might not be perfect, but they’re doing more than nothing, which is probably what they would be doing instead. Or posting pictures of cute cats.

I was actually planning on launching my new blog “The Perspicacious Geek” this week, but this has really been bugging me the past few days so I wrote this instead. See you next week when I explain exactly what The Perspicacious Geek is going to be about.

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