Macmillan defends itself against criticism it hijacked the Ice Bucket Challenge

Charity Macmillan Cancer Support is defending itself against criticism that it hijacked the social media campaign #IceBucketChallenge from other charities including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, claiming it is trying to be ‘more responsive’ to social media fundraising opportunities.

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The viral campaign has seen thousands of people, including celebrities such as George W. Bush, Will Smith and Victoria Beckham, pour a bucket of iced water over their head to raise awareness of and money for charity. The campaign is thought to have started in the US, where it was aimed at raising awareness of ALS, known as motor neurone disease in the UK.

Macmillan has been criticised for jumping on the trend and taking the spotlight away from smaller charities. Bloggers on Mumsnet have called Macmillan’s actions “underhand” and “unethical”.

The charity has defended itself in a blog post, claiming it was simply looking to amplify the actions of its supporters, who were already taking part in the campaign and donating to the charity. Macmillan’s head of digital Amanda Neylon says the charity has previously been criticised for not making the most of social media fundraising opportunities, such as the #nomakeupselfie, and is aiming to become more responsive.

She says: “Our biggest learning curve was after the #nomakeupselfie campaign. We were too slow – it was a big motivator to be much better the next time an opportunity came along.

“As a digital team here at Macmillan, we never used to be quite so responsive. It’s a recent thing for us. And believe me, we’re still learning. We’re trying to be bolder, we’re listening to what’s going on all over the world, and we’re responding more quickly than we have in the past. We’re trying new things so that we can keep moving forward as an organisation.”

According to YouGov’s CharityIndex, Macmillan has so far seen little negative impact on its brand from the criticism. Scores for metrics including Reputation, Impression and Buzz, a measure of the positive and negative things said about a charity, have all increased over the past week.

Joe Saxton, founder at charity consultancy nfpSynergy, says the issue is not that that motor neurone disease might lose out to other charities but that most people don’t know which charity the ice bucket challenge is for at all.

“Most people probably have no idea who the ice bucket challenge is for at all so the biggest loss is to ignorance not to other charities. It doesn’t help that it’s called ALS in the US and motor neurone disease in this country.

“The other big issue is that most of this is not a planned campaign at all in the UK, it’s not like ‘Race for Life’ or ‘The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ which are planned for months. The Ice Bucket Challenge is totally spontaneous and when a challenge such as this goes viral, it’s hard for any organisation to hang on to its coat tails,” he adds.

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