The charity sector is trying harder and harder to get your cash and is becoming ever more competitive each year. Charities are constantly looking for inventive ways of attracting people to fundraise on their behalf. We have all seen requests on our facebook and twitter asking us to donate to one cause or another. Often people will be doing a 10km run, a marathon or an ironman. Some are doing a ‘tough mudder’ event or other military themed gruelling obstacle course. People are quitting alcohol in January, raising money for Dogs in Dogtober and the month formally known as November is now an excuse for blokes to grow terrible facial hair.
Going on an adventure or completing a physical challenge for charity is becoming ever more popular. We see people climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, swimming the channel and even walking to the South Pole, all in aid of raising money for charity.
But is this a selfish act?
Before digging into that further, I have to admit that I am not completely innocent on this front. I have been one fo those on facebook, asking you to donate your hard earned cash in aid of various charities.
Adam’s charity adventures
I have so far completed two adventures for charity. In 2014 I completed a 650-mile cycle tour that started in London and went through Belgium, Luxembourg and France, finishing in Paris. I did this with my friend Ollie and raised £1677.93 for the military charity SSAFA. We did this unsupported and wild camped along the way to cut costs (here is a film I made about the adventure).
I completed my second adventure for charity in Dec 2016. I walked 220 miles, from Wiltshire to East Yorkshire in 10 days. Again this was unsupported, I carried all of my equipment and the sleeping bag that I required for the duration (including only two pairs of underpants). I did this mostly unaccompanied and slept in barns, woods and next to rivers along the way. My generous friends, family and the occasional stranger donated in total £2363.72 for the military charity Walking with the Wounded.
For me, the most important thing about the charity events I have done so far is that 100% of the money raised went to charity. I can not stress enough how important this was for me.
What really grinds my gears are these trips or events where people raise money and only a percentage of the money goes to the charity. Let’s use a Mt Kilimanjaro event I have found as an example. This is an expedition that is pretty challenging and captures the donators attention. However, do the donators know that usually, only 50% of their money is going to the charity? The other 50% is paying for somebody’s free trip to Africa.
Below are a couple of screenshots from https://www.discoveradventure.com/essential-information for the 11-day expedition to Mt Kilimanjaro in aid of MacMillan cancer support.
This expedition is organised by a company called Discover Adventure and costs £5,100 (including the registration fee). Let’s, for argument’s sake, say that the individuals will pay the £550 registration fee out of their own pocket, so they have to raise £4,550 in order to be able to go on this expedition. Personally, I think this is pretty pricey and a tough target for the average person to raise for charity. With the correct drive and motivation, it is certainly achievable and I imagine that due to the number of places available that these expeditions do get filled.
The next screen shot is the payment plan for the expedition. The fundraiser has multiple options. There is the option shown at the bottom in the pink section to pay for the costs in full with 100% of the money going to the charity.
This option is great!
However, if the fundraiser takes the other two options then only 50% of the raised money will to the charity. I personally think this is unacceptable.
Why is this an option?
In the perfect world, all of this money would be going to the charity. As a business model (and we have to remember that charities are businesses) I can completely understand why the charity does this. Receiving 50% of the raised money is better than receiving nothing at all. The charity also receives fantastic publicity for supporting a challenging event which will encourage more people to donate and complete their own events. It is a win-win.
My problem isn’t with the charity.
It’s with the fundraiser.
Doing the “right” thing
Raising £4,550 is an incredible feat. On my last adventure, I raised half of that amount. Each morning I was doing daily radio updates on BBC Wiltshire and appeared in a number of local newspapers. It’s hard work promoting a charity as there are so many good causes and everybody is after your cash. These media appearances helped to raise about 30% the final total. The rest was donated by friends and family.
If I was to sign up for the fundraising option for the Mt Kilimanjaro expedition and raised the target of £4,550 for the charity, they would receive £2,275. That is less than the £2,363.72 I have just raised by walking through England!
If an individual has the drive and motivation and to raise £4,550 for charity then all of that money should go to THE CHARITY. Not pay for a free holiday to Africa or any other far-flung land. I love travelling for free as much as the next person but that is taking the piss.
My adventure cost me a total of about £100. That was around £10 a day for food (I had the occasional pub lunch and KFC). It was a fantastic experience and the UK is a great place to walk through. It shows that there is no need to go to Mt Kilimanjaro to raise £2300 for charity. You can raise that just from going for a walk from your own home.
Is adventure fundraising selfish?
I would have probably attempted the 220-mile walk regardless of if there was the charity incentive or not. I had been looking for a 10-14 day opportunity to do something cheap and challenging and then I saw the Walking home for Christmas campaign by Walking with the Wounded through Facebook and thought that sounded like the perfect idea.
Doing an adventure for charity adds an element of pressure to the whole experience. As soon as you promote the fundraising page you are suddenly tied into doing it. There is no backing out without looking like a wally.
Before I set off on the 220 mile walk it was the first time I was genuinely worried about my chances of completing an adventure. I had a strict time schedule with limited flexibility. If I had picked up a serious or even an annoying niggling injury I probably wouldn’t have completed it. Sure, walking 220 miles was far from comfortable, especially at the beginning, but by the end, I felt pretty fresh and could have happily continued on for a lot further.
Initially, when I set off on the walk I had a slight feeling that what I was doing was selfish. Walking 220 miles serves zero purpose to anybody. I could have driven the distance in four hours or caught the train. Instead of taking a much more sensible and quicker mode of modern transport, I was away from home for 10 days before Christmas, wandering around England like an amateur nomad. Christmas is a time where you are meant to spend time with your friends and family. It wasn’t really until one of the donators to my just giving page made a certain comment that I felt I was doing something worthwhile.
He said, “thank you for giving us the opportunity to donate”.
This made me feel like my walk had a real purpose. I may not have been doing anything actual useful by walking but I certainly created an opportunity to donate and that was good enough for me.
There is something in all of us that wants to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. I have often found on my travels that those with the least, give the most.
Figures released by the British government in December 2016 show there are 167,109 registered charities in the UK that raise and spend £73.07 billion each year. This is a staggering amount of money that goes to some amazing causes all over the world.
Advice for other adventure fundraisers
If you are considering doing an adventure or challenge for charity go for it. Walking with the wounded were fantastic throughout my walk. Each morning they phoned me to see how I was doing and to check on my progress. This lifted my spirits during some of the miserable, wet and cold days. They also arranged the media interviews with local TV, radio and print press.
If at any time I even considered quitting, the incentive of raising more money for charity pushed me on. In the journal I kept throughout the walk, I noted the amount that had been raised each time I stopped. When I first set off I had raised £660. Seeing that number slowly raise to the end total was magical.
My advice to a donator or to a would be expedition adventurer is to think about where the money is going. If a stranger is donating, thinking that their donation is going to the charity when in fact it is paying for the flights, accommodation, visas and other costs related to a big expedition, you should make sure you are fully honest about that on any fundraising page.
When I donate, I personally would rather my money went completely to the charity, rather than pay for you to have a free holiday. The charities are happy to have this system as some money and publicity is better than nothing at all. And not everybody can afford to go to Mt Kilimanjaro. However getting a donator to pay for your trip just doesn’t sit right.
If you really want to go to Mt Kilimanjaro and raise a wod of cash for charity, save up for the trip and ensure all the money goes to charity. Or even better just go for a walk from your home through England or where ever else you may live.
In the end, you will feel much better for it.