It’s true, viral memes shouldn’t dictate our charitable giving. How should we allocate our donations? To answer this question, one needs an accurate picture of charitable causes and the donations that they receive. Below are three graphics that reveal which causes are underfunded and which are overfunded. The graphics are based on data from The Truth about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which features a cool but hard-to-interpret infographic of its own.

Death Rank vs. Donation Rank

Figure 1. * Pulmonary Disease” = Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. “Motor Neuron Disease” includes ALS.

Percent Deaths & Percent Donations

Figure 2. Pulmonary Disease” = Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. “Motor Neuron Disease” includes ALS.

Ratio of Deaths to Donations

Figure 3. Putting it all together.

So Where Should Your Money Go?

In answering this question, you may consider the following:

  1. How much suffering might your dollars prevent? How much human death?
  2. How much of your donation actually benefits those in need? (See the excellent Charity Navigator for capital efficiency ratings.)
  3. Does this cause hit close to home?
  4. Are there hidden consequences to your donation (e.g. animal testing in ALS research)?
  5. Fun is not the same as need. You can have as much fun as you like with ice buckets and still give to any charity of your choosing.

Based on the ratio of deaths to donations, as well as death rank versus donation rank, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Diabetes, and Suicide are the most urgent causes.

Data Sources

  1. The truth about the Ice Bucket Challenge: Viral memes shouldn’t dictate our charitable giving
  2. Ice Bucket Donations Continue to Rise: $94.3 Million Since July 29

I’ve used’s data with an update to the “Motor Neuron Disease” category, reflecting the Ice Bucket Challenge’s approach to $100 million.


The data in this article are derived from singular fundraising efforts for a given cause, and therefore do not reflect total donations. The latter would provide a more accurate gauge of the relationship between deaths and donations.

Vox’s hard-to-read graphic. Source: The truth about the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Raw Data

Cause Donations (M USD) Deaths Death Rank Donation Rank % Deaths % Donations
Heart Disease 54.1 596,577 1 4 64.2 9.2
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 7 142,942 2 6 15.4 1.2
Diabetes 4.2 73,831 3 7 7.9 0.7
Breast Cancer 257.9 41374 4 1 4.4 43.9
Suicide 3.2 39,518 5 8 4.2 0.5
Prostate Cancer 147 21,176 6 2 2.3 25
HIV, AIDS 14 7,683 7 5 0.8 2.4
Motor Neuron Disease (incl. ALS) 100 6,849 8 3 0.7 17

Created with the HTML Table Generator


Thanks to Amir Khella for feedback during the design phase.


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