Am I Right?

How to live ethically

What's Wrong With the Ice Bucket Fundraiser

Is a publicity stunt appropriate for a charity?

 

The great Jewish sage Maimonides once created a hierarchy of charity, with eight levels of giving. Donating anonymously ranked near the top.

This is sensible for two reasons. One, the recipient isn’t made to feel ashamed by having to directly face the donor and two, the donor does the good deed for charity’s sake alone. Giving is its own reward, not thanks or recognition.

The cold water bucket challenge to raise money and awareness for ALS makes giving very public; it is a social media spectacular. This seems to be an example of charity by clicking, plus “Hey, look at me!” There is something slightly off-putting about that, as a number of people have noted.

Well, yes. But. The bucket challenge is fun, a largely harmless summer lark and having fun while doing good isn’t something so quickly to be dismissed. So what that it is captured for all the world’s friends to see? Making people smile is a good thing.

Like most social media sensations, this one is bound to quickly fade. Meanwhile, it has raised a small fortune for a worthy cause. Would it be better if people didn’t make such a public display of their giving? I’m not so sure. The publicity became the generator for donations and who can argue about the additional millions that now will go to ALS research?

Another reason to cheer the bucket brigade is the hope that charitable giving becomes a habit. While donating to a good cause is its own reward, giving is a habit acquired over time. Get dunked and give and eventually you will give without getting dunked. 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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