Three weeks ago The ALS Association (The ALSA), known for global research, advocacy and care services for those fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease, launched the "Ice Bucket Challenge." With its unexpected success resulting in more than $79.7 million raised (and still growing) in this three-week period (far surpassing the total $24 million they generated all of last year), a new challenge has spawned from The ALSA Ice Bucket Challenge -- how to spend the funds?
The ALS Association has been given a gift; the $79.7 million they have raised through this social media extravaganza is "unrestricted funds," which means they can use those funds however they wish. It's not earmarked for any particular project or program. As someone not close to The ALSA and their plans, but very interested and concerned with media, watchdog and donor expectations, one of the options they should consider is to set a good portion of the windfall aside for ongoing infrastructure and capacity building to sustain this level of fundraising on a year to year basis. This might actually increase their ability to conduct more breakthrough research or better more effective patient therapies.
Unfortunately that may not be a viable option given the expectation that they spend it all ASAP or otherwise be excoriated by the media, donors and some charity rating groups in a rush to uninformed judgement of what is the best use of the funds.
The ALS Association currently holds Charity Navigator's highest rating; 4-stars. They have similar standing with others. But some charity evaluators' metrics don't take into consideration when an organization has windfall as is the case with ALS. And while The ALSA has made it clear these are unrestricted dollars, there will undoubtedly be voices of concern if the funds are not immediately ploughed into direct programs and services. Add to that the irony that if The ALSA did not spend the funds in the fiscal year they were raised, they likely would see a drop in their ratings.
My hope is that this incredible "Ice Bucket" phenomena will draw attention to the needs of those afflicted with and impacted by ALS. But I also hope and urge the media, charity rating organizations and donors to consider that The ALSA's best use of the funds might be to increase their capacity and infrastructure so they can sustain their annual fundraising not just have a one-time windfall.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.