Over the past few weeks my social media timelines have been filled with celebrities, friends and family members filming themselves doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a popular meme that involves either dumping ice water on your head or donating to the ALS Association (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or both. To date, The ALS Association has raised over 88.5 million dollars, a significant jump from the 2.6 million raised during the same time frame last year.

donating versus death graph 1While the general public debates about whether to continue this seemingly endless loop of videos, nominations and giving, it’s definitely an interesting case study in human behavior, and why people give to certain charities.

Often, the most crippling diseases and those that take the most lives get ignored. Do they just need better PR?

This graph shows the distinction between the diseases that kill the most people in the US versus the ones garnering the most donations. While heart disease leads the pack, claiming almost 600,000 lives in 2013, it has the third largest donation pool.

While third place might not seem too bad, heart disease still gets to stand on the podium, the actual dollars donated are just a fraction of what is raised by the Komen Race for the Cure for breast cancer, the fourth largest killer.

Unless your charity has jazz hands, it’s probably not raising enough money. 

The past two decades have seen a significant jump in the way charities reach their target audience. Websites, online campaigns and social media “shares” should be  making more money for research and drug treatment across the board, but that’s not happening. Unless your disease has a good “hook,” celebrity endorsement, telethon or ongoing national campaign, you’ll only get the donations of passionate supporters.

In an article on Slate magazine, senior editor, Felix Salmon urged generous donors to contribute to charities that have more of an immediate positive effect including, “areas such as education, or clean water, or animal rescue, or the arts, or simply just giving money to poor people.”

If nothing else, hopefully the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon will challenge and inspire other charity leaders to come up with inventive ways to raise money. For the rest of us, it’s still a good lesson in philanthropy, though maybe we need to spread our financial kindness out just a bit  more.