Social Media and Charity: Love or Hate

September 16th, 2014 in Social Media 4 minute read

The last 12 months have been a pretty bumper year for viral social media charity stunts: we had #NoMakeUpSelfies, #GetYourBellyOut (where Crohn’s and Colitis sufferers shared pictures of themselves in their bikinis, with their colostomy bags clearly visible) and now the #IceBucketChallenge. There’s a lot of love for these campaigns, with a staggering £64 million raised worldwide for the featured charities (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Water Aid and Cancer Research UK), alongside a load of scepticism and “haters” (as the cool kids call them).

So how much real good do social media charity stunts do, or is it just a load of hot air?


1) Celebrity – A lot of people have pushed against the celebrity adoption of these campaigns, labelling it a narcissistic display of popularity that pushes us mere mortals into wanting to join “the club”. Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, Stephen Hawking and Clare Balding have all gone under the ice bucket, whilst UK celebs Binky Felstead, Luisa Zissman and Holly Willoughby all took to social media to post their #NoMakeUpSelfies. Whether they were in it for their own PR or to genuinely support a good cause, there’s no denying it: once a celebrity gets on board, campaigns take off.


2) Waste of water – The reality is, millions of people around the world have to walk miles every day to collect water which may not even be safe to drink. So it does sting a bit when you think of the thousands of tons of perfectly clean, safe water that have literally been thrown down the drain in the name of a £3 donation. That said, thousands of people have noticed this and started giving to Water Aid as well as ALS, and coming up with their own water-friendly alternatives.

3) Where does the money really go? – There has always been controversy attached to the money raised by social media charity campaigns. With #NoMakeUpSelfies, those who texted “DONATE” rather than “BEAT” found their money sent to the wrong charity, whilst others accidentally adopted polar bears from the World Wildlife Fund! The #IceBucketChallenge got cold water poured on it (sorry not sorry) when it came out that the ALS charity bosses earn six-figure salaries, and questions were raised about where exactly our money is going. The organisation is yet to respond (not a great PR move). ALS also attempted to submit a trademark application for the ice bucket challenge, meaning other charities would have to pay to take part. This has now been retracted, but it puts a bit of a sour note on this amazing global impulse to give charitably (and it wasn’t their idea in the first place #justsaying).


1) Let’s start with the obvious – Money. Understandably in an ideal world a charity isn’t after that one donation; it wants you to find out more about their great cause and continue to donate for the rest of your life. But when push comes to shove, they’ll take your dollar wherever and whenever they can. And £2 million to Cancer Research UK in 48 hours for #NoMakeUpSelfies, or $98.2 million in a month for ALS in the USA from #IceBucketChallenges, or over £13,000 for relatively little-known charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK from Instagram #GetYourBellyOut selfies – is nothing to be sneezed at.


2) Awareness – From 1 August to 27 August this year, the ALS Wikipedia page had 2,717,754 views. This compared with the 1,662,842 people who had visited the page during the whole of the preceding 12 months, according to data company Dataviz. Seeing our friends tipping buckets of ice over their heads gets us talking – simple as. And the beauty of a viral charity stunt is that it all comes free – not one of the charities reaping the financial and PR rewards of these campaigns paid a single penny for them.

3) Diseases and illnesses are crap, and in a society that values material goods above everything else any little we can do to help our fellow humans is a good thing (might be betraying my bias on the subject a teensy bit here) –

“It is rare for MND to get this much support and I can only be grateful to those who have taken part. Selfies and social media being used for charitable causes are no bad thing. It is worth looking at the ends not the means and for people facing this brutal disease it has given us a bit more hope and a spring in our step.” Euan MacDonald, the founder of Euan’s Guide.

If you fancy a giggle, make sure you check out our Zeal #IceBucketChallenge here – you can still donate to MND by texting ICED55 £5 (or any other amount) to 70070. And make sure you follow us on Twitter @wehavezeal to keep up to date with any new social media charity campaigns!

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