What No One’s Talking About: How ALS Brought 18 to 30 year-olds into the Philanthropy Game

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the ALS Association kicked some ass last summer. In just 30 days, from July 29 to August 29, the Ice Bucket Challenge brought in $100.9 million. The same period from last year? A mere $2.8 million.

"Mo' money" can lead, as they say, to "mo' problems." But after such a barnstormer ice bucket season, the ALS Association seems to be taking it slow. The board of trustees has approved $21.7 million in funding, most of it going to research. That’s big, because in 2013, the ALS Association put only $7.2 million, or 28 percent of its budget into research. This announcement—and we’re expecting there will be others—seems to indicate the ALS Association’s desire to make research a bigger part of their pie moving forward. That’s good news for anyone stuck in a gridlock of trying to get funding for trials.

Related - Let's Talk About What Really Matters: Who's Getting all This Money Raised for ALS?

But what no one’s talking about is the fact that fully half the donations the Ice Bucket Challenge brought in came from 18 to 30 year-olds—a notoriously tricky demographic to tackle.

It’s tempting to invoke the very much clichéd image of a self-absorbed young adult here, but what’s the real reason why young adults give so sparingly to charity? Partly, I’d argue, it’s because philanthropy can be a stodgy pursuit at times. Rich white men get old and go soft, setting up personal foundations for the greater glory of mankind—and their own personal legacy-chasing. Well-meaning, stay-at-home soccer moms and retired grandmas in tennis shoes volunteer with literacy programs or at soup kitchens. Philanthropy isn’t sexy, and it isn’t plugged into the overshare culture Millenials love so well.

You know that app that lets you post how many miles you ran, and what your route was, to Facebook? Where's the charity app that lets you tell the world Rachel just finished Relay for Life! Brandon just logged three and a half hours at the soup kitchen! Felicia just donated $50 to a Kickstarter for a new food pantry! 

What the ALS Association did, whether knowingly or not, was create a simple interface that let anyone and everyone participate and then thrillingly, publicly, gloat.

But it doesn’t feel like gloating, because you’re dumping a bucket of ice water on yourself! Oh, it’s magic. I’m 32, technically a few years senior of Millenial-ville, but I get it. The fun of letting a huge circle of friends peek into your life and see what you tell them to see: someone who’s funny, connected, and best of all, caring. What could be better?