Viral fundraising: A big song and dance about nothing?

Say hello to Worms vs. worms.

als charity ice bucket mark zuckerberg schistosomiasis viral worm wormvsworms

The biggest ‘challenge’ of the Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year was getting anybody to know what the neurodegenerative disease ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) actually is.

While the campaign raised over $100 million for the cause, many might argue it failed quite drastically in this respect.

With this in mind, some have asked whether viral charity social media campaigns can solve world problems, or just provide another outlet for narcissism?

What we want to know, however, is if we could use funds from a social media campaign to eradicate a disease that affects millions of people, without anyone filming the videos necessarily knowing what they’d helped do, would that be worth doing?

Here’s the new kid on the block and it’s called, #wormvsworms.

The movement began in earnest at the Polygeia conference in Cambridge on the 15th November and the premise is simple: Do (or flail and fail at) the dance move ‘the worm’, or another worm like motion, donate to Schistosomiasis charity SCI, then nominate some friends to do it in the following 24 hours.

Okay so this one is a bit closer to home, but still, same old story. So why bother?

One key difference between Schistosomiasis and, say, ALS (bar the turn-off flopping about on the floor might present to the budding narcissist) is the cost-effectiveness of the charity in question.

#wormvsworms is raising money to combat Schistosomiasis through the charity SCI. Per drug dose, each of which can protect someone for a year from the disease, the cost is roughly 50p. Or two freddos (the outrageous increase in freddo price is a story for another day).

There’s still the question of whether people actually donate, which is a lot harder to answer. However #wormvsworms has a fundraising page set up in collaboration with the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, the charity based at Imperial College London which helps distribute drugs for the disease.

So far there have been around 50 donations, totalling almost £250, enough to treat 500 individuals for a year. This correlates quite well with the number of #wormvsworms videos so far, although it does seem that several of the large group videos have resulted in lesser donations which is possibly a limitation (but they are some of the best – see below).

This is all sounds well and good, but does anyone participating actually care about schistosomiasis, or do they only care about their ego and feeling fuzzy inside after they donate?

The #wormvsworms campaign also encourages people to post an informative video about the condition alongside their attempt. That’s probably a pretty weak defence; if the campaign takes off it’s unlikely that video will continue to stand side by side with people’s failed worms. So if the campaign were to raise more money than awareness, would it still be worth it?

In this case we think it would, yes. Maybe people are playing ego and having a bit of fun with it, and maybe most people will never hear of Schistosomiasis ever again. Maybe they’ll never learn any of the basic facts about the disease: that it’s caused by parasitic worms and causes massive chronic health problems and death throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

But in a way that’s kind of the idea. The campaign is helping provide funds to ensure the disease is not a public health problem in Africa by 2020, and worldwide by 2025. So hopefully the next time people hear of it in a big way will be in about 5 years when its levels have plummeted and eradication is on the cards.


People do lots of things which have benefit themselves while also raising money for charity: running marathons, bungee jumping and climbing mountains are just three that come to mind. The major differences between these and a viral video are probably the time involved and the likelihood of following through with the donation.

However, if we continue to see the donation rates we’ve seen so far, the latter shouldn’t be a huge problem, and making money for charity faster is hardly an issue.

So perhaps for a verifiably cost-effective, humanitarian cause in need of just a little funding boost, it doesn’t matter too much why people support it or whether they know the facts.

For in the immortal words of Batman, “To conquer worms you must become worms”.