20 February 2019
The Ice Bucket Challenge was able to generate about US$100 million in donations during the past month. Photo: AFP
The Ice Bucket Challenge was able to generate about US$100 million in donations during the past month. Photo: AFP

After Ice Bucket Challenge success, scorching criticisms

After the phenomenal success of its Ice Bucket Challenge, the ALS Association finds itself in the middle of what could be a major PR crisis as it parries growing criticisms from various quarters about its fundraising campaign.

The organization is being assailed for trying to trademark the phrases “ice bucket challenge” and “ALS ice bucket challenge”.

It has withdrawn the trademark applications after observers pointed out that ALS Association did not invent the challenge so it had no right to seek exclusive use.

Trademark lawyer Erik Pelton was among the first to get wind of the foundation’s action, which he called “shameful”.

“The reasons in general one seeks to protect a trademark is to prevent others from using it,” Pelton tells the Washington Post. “I find this to be shameful, because I hope that they would never consider preventing some other charity from using the phrase.”

The organization, however, explained to the newspaper that it had applied for the trademark “after seeing many examples of unscrupulous profiteers trying to drive revenue to themselves, instead of the fight against ALS”.

The fundraising campaign was able to greatly bolster public awareness of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and generate about US$100 million in donations during the past month.

But some quarters are now insinuating that most of the funds are not actually going into research on the neurodegenerative disorder but into other non-charitable uses, including the supposedly obscene salaries of executives at the foundation.

ALS Society vehemently denies these accusations. 

The accusations apparently originated from a satirical website called Political Ears, but unfortunately, according to the foundation, “people are reading this article as fact”.

One such allegation is that the ALS Association has admitted that 73 percent of the donations are not used for research. The truth is, the foundation spent 79 percent of its annual budget on programs and services last year, which includes 28 percent on research, “one of three main pillars of or charitable work”.

It also noted that if donors wanted 100 percent of their donations to go to research, they could simply check a box on the online donation form to note their preference.

It stressed that in addition to research, the group spends money on care services to people living with the disease and public policy initiatives to encourage the advancement of legislative policies that benefit ALS families.

The ALS Association said the salaries of its executives are “in line with the job markets where they are located—and in line with those of other national charities.”

Salary review is part of the accreditation process for charity watchdogs and a requirement of the National Health Council, of which it is a member, it said.

Indeed, the Ice Bucket Challenge drew public attention not only to the cause for which it was initiated but also to charitable organizations whose operations and finances have been less than transparent.

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