Are Fundraisers Killing Americans?

Click to enlarge this portion of the Vox infographic based on information from the CDC. To see the full infographic, visit:

Marketers love it when a campaign goes viral. And it’s even better if it’s for a good cause, right? While there are few who would question that reasoning, Vox does. The site takes a look at statistics showing nearly 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year and a 2013 campaign raised $54 million to find a cure. But “celebrities and the entertainment value” of the #IceBucketChallenge for ALS drove $23 million in donations for a disease that kills between 5,000 and 6,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Actually, Vox’s #IceBucketChallenge figures on the Aug. 20 infographic, which reports on Aug. 27 has gone viral itself, are out of date. This just in from the ALS Association on Aug. 27: “Ice Bucket Donations Continue to Rise: $94.3 Million Since July 29.”

So Vox argues that viral memes shouldn’t dictate charitable giving. states, “If we spent as much on fighting disease as we do on bottled water—to pick just one example—we’d have beaten most of these long ago.”

Do these arguments rely on false equivalency?

So if one fundraising campaign is much more successful than another, is the marketing killing Americans by omission? What morality should play into which causes get the most marketing attention?

Is there any point in telling Americans what they should do?

So what’s the right thing to do? How much does doing “the right thing” play into viral marketing?

Please respond in the comments section below.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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  • Ann Lee

    I have never in my life commented on an article, but I disagree so violently with this opinion that I feel compelled to do that now.

    Charitable decisions should not be based on the number of people who have a disease but on a person’s personal choice of what cause he or she wants to support, and on the impact that a particular disease has on the lives of individuals, our families, our society and our communities at large. ALS has a horrific impact on an individual’s life as well as their immediate family, friends, church families, and communities.

    ALS hits people without warning (often young males and many who are hard workers, overachievers and athletes, and are otherwise healthy and fit people) in the prime of their lives. Within a few short months, it completely destroys their lives and renders them completely helpless to perform the basic functions of life including breathing, eating, talking, moving and everything else we take for granted. It also turns their families upside down and puts all the caretaking burden on the spouse, which is a massive physical, emotional and financial burden.

    The ALS patient very quickly loses all resemblance of themselves, with a functioning brain but a completely non-functioning body in a wheelchair with a feeding tube. It is heartwrenching to see a friend go from looking perfectly fine to this condition in just a few short months. In the final stages, all the person can do is sit completely still and move no part of their body but their eyeballs, with their only means of communication being a machine that they talk into and it tries to translate their thoughts into words. It is like being a prisoner in your own body for roughly a year and a half or more.

    Heart disease, cancer and other more well-known diseases are terrible as well, and can equally devastating and fatal, but at least most people and all medical professionals are aware of these diseases , have some idea how to diagnose and treat them, and have some treatment options they can offer their patients to cure the disease, prolong their lives and/or at least make them more comfortable in their final days.

    I have 6 people in my immediate circle of friends in just one small geographical area between Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS who have either died from ALS or are battling it now, all of whom were the best of the best people I know. So that tells me it is not all that rare, and it is becoming more prevalent. It can strike any of us at any time and perhaps that would change your mind as to whether or not it’s a worthy enough cause.

    What little causation research has been done has shown that ALS may be tied to environmental factors, as evidenced by the fact that it has a regional concentration, with many cases being in the Southeast, and it also has a high correlation with people who have served in the military and spent time overseas as airplane mechanics. Is ALS not a worthy enough cause to support the military personnel who are sacrificing their lives to serve our country?

    If we can isolate the causes of ALS, perhaps we can spare more people from getting this horrific disease until more progress is made toward finding a cure or any viable treatment options.. Right now people have NO HOPE once they get this dreaded diagnosis and my hope is that the extremely brilliant and successful Ice Bucket Challenge campaign and the celebrities, companies and individuals who supported it will finally give ALS-inflicted families some hope and some legitimate treatments and cures s to fight this insidious disease so that they do not have to lose their loved ones and we don’t have to lose more exceptional and wonderful people.

    My heart goes out to anyone who has ALS and any of the other diseases that plague us, and I hope fundraising will continue to thrive in social media and elsewhere. It is an incredibly efficient and easy way to raise awareness and funding and I can only say GOD BLESS Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and all of social media and all of its users for enabling this incredible phenomenon. Sincerely, Ann Camp Lee

  • Thorin McGee

    Speaking as the editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, we do not mean to oversimplify the argument with the headline, but it’s a very interesting phenomenon. It does seem like the best marketing drives the flow of fundraising more than any priority or magnitude of social needs. Is that a problem, or just an expression of the interest of the population?

    I think you can certainly say the same in for-profit marketing: The best marketer often trumps what might be in the more objective best interest of the customer (see cigarette ads, and the VHS vs. Betamax home video wars). Is that an issue worth discussing?


    I believe these arguments do rely on false equivalency? The point of marketing is to create awareness, educate and ultimately get people to act. Why do we have to always focus on the negatives and the have nots. Why can’t we just appreciate the positives and learn from it and apply it to other great causes. ALS is a horrible disease, so is cancer, so is MS, and I can go on and on because we all have causes that pull at our heart strings and dictate where we give. How about we stop making things “newsworthy” and focus on the execution of a great campaign.

  • Greg

    Is it “better marketing” or a long-noted cultural obsession with money and celebrity that’s made this ALS campaign “newsworthy”? And who’s to determine the “priority…of social needs” when these activities take place on behalf of quasi-private non-profits?
    Money alone won’t cure any disease. Extending life expectancy largely has come via reducing death rates from birth, in early childhood , or from trauma injury and infection later in life, not by tremendous progress in “curing” chronic diseases.

  • Concerned

    Why is it that one of the 600,000 is more important than one of the 6,000? Shall we as a society say we will only give or mostly support those who suffer from a disease that the majority suffer from and the others who unfortunately have a “rare” disease too bad for you? By the way, the government does this already as most rare cancers get no support from the NCI. It is the responsibility of each foundation/non-profit to work for their cure. Hopefully, they use their support for new discoveries and in the spirit of collaboration share their learning with other foundations/doctors/researchers to help find cures and improved treatments for similar diseases. As supporters or consumers, we are free to give and purchase as we choose, if we are swayed by marketing that is part of our choice. I am not sure we should take that way. By the way, who decides what is the “best interest”? Back to my first line, if you have a rare disease isn’t it in YOUR best interest that illness be funded? Or is it too bad should have gotten heart disease, sorry for you.

  • BGattinger

    I subscribe to the tenet that there are only so many charitable giving dollars available in the country each year. When a marketing campaign creates a “demand” for those dollars, it takes away dollars from another cause. If we divest ourselves of the emotion of the cause (and with ALS that is very difficult because it is such a tragic disease) we would realize that the greater good for the most people is being affected. If you disagree – ask any charity what happened to their fund raising in the 6 moths post 9/11. So many dollars went (and perhaps rightfully so) to a relatively small segment of Americans while larger segments were left without their support – strictly based on the emotions of the days after 9/11. It is a very emotional issue but one that needs to be discussed..

  • Chaz

    Fortunately, when it comes to giving, it remains the choice of the individual as to how much and where his or her money will go. Creative campaigns serve to give the individual a reason to give – which is a good thing. Any form of regulation or direction as to where a person should give money in itself becomes a moral dilemma and will have negative results. Americans give where they want to give.

  • BillN

    When we base our charitable giving on celebrity promotion or social memes, it shows that we are not very wise. We should base our giving on more than that. But how does one suggest stopping or controlling it? Do you want to have a government agency regulate charitable giving? “They” issue an approved list of charitable recipients– or worse, you just give your contributions to the government and let “them” distribute it “more fairly.” Please. If that suggestion was entertained in your mind as plausible for even a split second, you’re scaring me. The definition of giving charitably is “without onus or obligation.” Therefore, people can give charitably to whomever and whatever they want to. Yes, that choice is governed by their values, and those values should be rooted in God and enduring moral foundations, not on celebrity or popular social media trends. If some choose to give to the ALS campaign– fine. I already have a list of charitable organizations/causes that I give to, and I can’t give to them all; so, I didn’t give to ALS. God bless those who did, and God bless those who gave to other causes. Is there really a problem here?