It was the summer of 2001. I had just graduated from college, and found myself working at camp for the summer, singing and acting and dancing, leading and laughing and loving from 7 in the morning until well after 10 at night. My hair was cropped short, and my feet were a constant brown-dirt “tan”; I went by the camp name “Kujo,” and next to the man above, the microphone was my best friend.
At twenty-two years old, I was a bundle of flirt-filled energy who thought she ran the place.
And, at times, I did.
Along with my program partner-in-crime, Woofy, one of our responsibilities involved helping to raise funds for like-minded camps overseas. At the end of the week, microphones in hand, we’d beg and plead the campers to save just a few cents – “maybe even a dollar!” – from their snack fund and instead drop their pennies in our bucket.
“Come on, y’all: you can do without your afternoon Nerds/Charleston Chew/Sarsparilla Root Beer…” They’d stare at us dumbfounded. No we can’t.
I mean, they were twelve and thirteen year old ego-centric young adolescents. Who were we to beg and plead them for money when their daily sugar needs ranked so much higher than some kids on the other side of the WORLD whom they’d never meet?
Week after week, we’d raise fifty, sixty bucks, which meant that out of a camp of two hundred plus campers, we were lucky to get a quarter from their stash of hard-earned cash.
Finally we had an idea: what if we gave the kids an incentive to give? Woofy would shave his legs, or his head – I can’t remember. Kujo would kiss the camp pig. And we’d do this that night at campfire if only we raised two hundred dollars.
This time, as the last night of camp rolled around, we acted as auctioneers, not begging kids to give generously anymore, but instead facilitating a free-will giving roller coaster. Kids ran up to the stage, stuffing dollar bills into the jar, outbidding their cabin mates, intent on raising the necessary funds towards head-shaving and pig-kissing. We didn’t merely double our funds, but we exceeded our goal, raising hundreds of dollars for strangers halfway around the globe.
The strategy continued for a couple of weeks until the real big-wigs asked us to stop.
“Why?” we asked. “We’ve raised more money in the last two weeks than we have in the past couple of summers combined?”
“Because we want them to give for the right reasons.”
I tell this story, because if you haven’t noticed, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised thirty-four times the amount of money in the past month than it did a year ago. Bringing in a record $88.5 million, they’ve brilliantly exceeded 2013’s now-meager looking $2.6 million. They’ve made a name for themselves in the non-profit sector, towering over other NPO’s donations received, all in an effort to help in the fight against Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
But it comes with a cost.
Critics report that the ice bucket challenge is just another empty social media example of narcissistic “slactivism.” Others, especially in my drought-ridden state of California, estimate that the average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day, which means that nearly 19,000 homes’ daily water usage has already been wasted. But, despite the funds that continue to be raised, the good the exceeding generosity of these millions raised will certainly do in the name of ALS research, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed the point altogether.
Are we focusing too much on the donor instead of on the organization?
Have we neglected the heart and soul of the not-for-profit world, at the cost of fame and wasted water? Will this only further perpetuate “giving opportunities” within various NPO’s around the world, making donor incentives a requirement instead of a by-product of their generosity?
But, then again, how responsible are we for the hearts that give? Is it even our business?
Truthfully, I’m torn. Having worked in the non-profit sector for eight years, I see and I hear both sides of the argument. Fiscally responsible for funds raised, we took pride in the relationships cultivated with donors. At times we wined and dined, or we dropped off Christmas poinsettias or Thanksgiving pumpkin pies on doorsteps, but mostly we just tried to know them. Poignantly, I remember one donor finally saying to me, “Cara, I appreciate the time you take in writing me a thank you card, but please don’t. I don’t want a card. I don’t want another free blanket. I don’t want you to spend money on thanking me – that’s not why I give. I give because I want to give.” So I never spent another 46 cents on him again.
Because here’s the truth: we write checks because our hearts are prompted to give. We punch in numbers into online giving sites because we believe in values and mission statements of the organizations we support. And ultimately, hopefully, we build relationships with these ministries and churches and not-for-profits not because we want to get something out of it, but because we want to see those they serve get something out of it.
But are thousands of millions of buckets of ice really a bad thing?
Obviously, I go back and forth on this issue. What about you? I can’t WAIT to hear what you think! (PS: No baby yet …but soon!)0