Philanthropy is a Great Leveler, by Gioia Perugini

Philanthropy is a great leveler. You don’t have to have millions to give to charity or be a captain of industry to have an impact on a cause you care about (although that approach works, too!) This summer’s viral online Ice Bucket Challenge is a case in point. The internet is famous for many things, and technology has enabled simple ideas to be spread far and wide—it’s the internet age’s version of that 1970s commercial for shampoo—”and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on…”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the Ice Bucket Challenge idea started—it seems to be part sports prank, part playground dare, deployed for any number of good causes. It takes the metaphor of “throw cold water on it” and turns it upside down, literally. It started here in the Boston area earlier this summer, propelled by the family and friends of former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in March of 2012. The idea is simple—you either douse yourself with a bucket of ice cold water or donate $100 to ALS research within 24 hours (many people are now doing both). It has raised not only awareness for a devastating and debilitating disease, but according to a recent report resulted in a 1,000% spike in charitable contributions to the ALS Association in a 10 day period. Not bad for a viral game of truth or dare. As anyone with a Facebook or Twitter feed knows, it has caught on like wildfire and spread through sports (BC Eagles, Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins players), politicians (the Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh and Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson to name a few), celebrities (including Martha Stewart) to kids, moms, dads and even grandmas (have you seen Ethel Kennedy challenging the President? No video of the Obamas yet.)

All of this goes to show that a small and simple idea that anyone can do that is tied to a cause can have an immediate and far reaching impact. Whether it’s the ice bucket challenge, pennies for pushups or other easy-to-accomplish feats of daring or strength, activating yourself for a good cause is a no-barrier entry activity. Then you can take the real challenge of going deeper, learning more, and continuing to stay involved in a cause you care about. Take that fun spark and volunteer for a day, or read about what more you can do for people while you are reaching for an ultimate solution. It’ll feel just as good as a cold rush of water splashing over you.

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