Are charity stunts the best way to raise money and awareness?

First it was growing a moustache for prostate and testicular cancer research. Then it was dumping buckets of ice water on our heads for a similar initiative for ALS. Now people are eating candy together for charity.

Growing mustaches, dumping ice buckets and eating candy all ways to raise cash

First it was growing a moustache for prostate and testicular cancer research. Then it was dumping buckets of ice water on our heads for a similar initiative for ALS. Now people are eating candy together for charity.

If you've checked your social media feeds lately, you've probably seen a few videos like this one posted by Lena Dunham. 

In the video, she and her co-star Allison Williams take a Twizzler and start eating it from both ends until their lips meet. It's supposed to be a re-creation of the famous spaghetti scene from the Disney film Lady and the Tramp. And it's being done to raise money for autism research.

Celebrities are jumping on board, just as they did last summer for something completely different. For awhile, the ice bucket challenge was everywhere, with just about everybody dumping buckets of ice water on their head to raise money for ALS research.

The phenomenon has the attention of  Rose Anne Devlin, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa who's spent the last 20 years researching the economics of philanthropy.

She says there's research around the power of peer pressure when it comes to donating money to charity. She said seeing friends participate often motivates others to join in as well. 

That reaction has led to a lot of donations. ALS Canada raised over $16 million through the ice bucket challenge campaign. And Movember, the annual campaign to raise money and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, and men's mental health, raised over $20 million in Canada in 2014.

There's no telling how much money the Twizzler challenge will raise for autism research, but Devlin said she's not all that happy about it. "I was kind of discouraged when I heard about it because I'm not sure that this is a good path to be on, the promotion of charities through sort of gimmicks. It might well be but I'm not sure there's a long term future in that," she explained. 

Devlin said these campaigns may have a short shelf life. But does it really matter what people are doing to raise money for charity, as long as they're raising money?

"To some extent it doesn't, a dollar is a dollar," Devlin said. "Except if you were thinking about longer term support of causes, you want to think about developing a base that is secure for people who give money to your charity and these kinds of activities I see more as one-off activities."

Devlin said successful charities often depend on people who donate every year, and if they focus on getting too many people to donate once, it won't pay off long term. She added these fun stunts for charity may place pressure on other fundraisers to devote too much time and energy to figuring out the next wacky campaign idea.

However, she said it is possible that if we get used to them, we may start budgeting for them ahead of time.