Fact Check

Where Do ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Go?

Does the ALS not use a huge portion of Ice Bucket Challenge donations for providing services to ALS sufferers?

Published Aug. 29, 2014


Claim:   Most of the $100 million raised from ALS 'Ice Bucket Challenge' donations won't go to ALS-related research and services.


Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2014]

Received the message below on FB from a friend after I completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Just wondering if this is true and how their spending compares to other charities. We've been duped. America is filled with fun-loving and caring people. The viral ice bucket challenge has combined both our sense of responsibility to our fellow human with fun. And it has been fun! Who didn't love seeingSarah Palin doused?
But wait? Ice Bucket Challenge donations are nearing $100 MILLION. Where is that money going? According to the ALS Foundation, not towards ALS. Over 73% of all donations raised are going to fundraising, overhead, executive salaries, and external donations. Less than 27% is actually used for the purpose we donated for. According to the ECFA, a charitable watchdog, 27% of donations actually making it to the cause they are donated to is unacceptable.

Origins:   The email quoted above and other versions of it began to circulate on 28 August 2014, with widespread social media concern over the fate of 'Ice Bucket Challenge' funds donated to the ALS following shortly thereafter.

On 27 August 2014, The ALS Association posted a press release confirming that the organization had received $94.3 million in donations between 29 July and 27 August 2014 due to the popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge. In the release, Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association, addressed the large infusion of funds and the organization's sudden social media fame:

The ALS Association has been given a great deal of money and with that comes tremendous responsibility ... We are absolutely committed to transparency and will be communicating regularly with the ALS community, our donors, the media and the public about progress to invest these dollars wisely in areas that will have maximum impact on the fight against this devastating disease.

Given the large amount of cash suddenly flowing in the direction of The ALS Association, it's natural a public questioning of sorts would follow. After all, not every charity is well administrated, and not every cause is free of bad actors who would exploit public interest for financial gain.

Services such as Charity Navigator, an independent assessor of charitable organizations, can be helpful in diffusing concerns in a situation such as the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon. According to the site, the ALS Association has a record of high transparency and ranks high in other areas, receiving an overall 90.73/100 rating and
a four out of four stars ranking from Charity Navigator.

The claim made in the email above, that 73% of donations fund executive salaries and overhead, is demonstrably false. Charity Navigator's breakdown of the ALS Association's finances for the fiscal year ending January 2013 shows that 72.4% of the ALS Association's budget during that period was used for program expenses — that is, the programs and services the ALS Association delivers to the ALS community according to its mission, such as professional and public education, research into ALS treatments and cures, and patient and community services. Of the remaining budget, 11% went to administrative expenses and 16.5% to fundraising expenses. It appears that someone confused the term "program expenses" with "overhead" and mistakenly assumed the former represented money spent on bureaucracy rather than the vital ALS-related services provided by the ALS Association.

The ALS Association's most recent fiscal year reporting is available on its website, with more detailed reports linked on the same page.

Last updated:   29 August 2014

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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