During these dog days of summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has created a sensation on social media, attracting celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and even detractors bent on generating their own buzz. I'm not a spoilsport: I've enjoyed the comic video bloopers and the delight of seeing glamorous people drenched alongside your average Josephine. Even the "challenge" part makes for an amusing game of digital tag.
And it has been an enormous success for the ALS Association. On Friday, the Association reported $53.3 million in donations resulting from the ice bucket challenge. Who could deny the sense of hope this great windfall brings for the sufferers of ALS and their families? And public consciousness of the disease has certainly skyrocketed this summer. Still, that is serious money, and as a donor, you should be thoughtful in your charitable giving and go beyond getting swept up in a social-media trend.
As a donor, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you concerned about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis? Do you know a family that has been affected by ALS? Have you been moved by stories of ALS patients?
- How much do you know about the ALS Association? You might research it in order to understand how it combats ALS, who leads and manages the organization, and how it measures its own effectiveness.
- The ALS Association fights the disease primarily through scientific research. Do you know enough about ALS to understand the group's research initiatives? You don't have to be a science wonk: The organization should provide you with enough information in layperson's language to know what you're supporting.
- How will the ALS Association use this enormous influx of resources? The organization's IRS 990 form, which you can find on its website, shows that in 2013 the organization had income of nearly $25 million. Imagine seeing your organizational budget triple in a number of months. Would you be ready for that? Is the ALS Association ready?
- What will the ALS Association do in the future, once this media sensation has faded? If it expands its infrastructure and programs, how does it plan to sustain its giving levels?
- Is a gift to the ALS Association part of your plan for charitable giving? Does it fall into one of your priority categories? Do you have a category for giving to opportunities that come up during the year?
I don't want to pour ice water on anyone's fun, especially when it supports a worthy cause, but it's important that you consider these sorts of questions before you make a donation. As a donor, you're investing in that organization and its mission. You can best support your cause of choice if you give in a thoughtful and skillful way. By all means, participate in the ice bucket challenge. Just be informed about your philanthropy before you go drenching yourself.
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Fool contributor Mark Ewert is as serious about charitable giving as you are about investing, so he wants to help Fool readers to be skillful givers. You can purchase his new book, The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving, through his website or at your local bookstore.