Alex Staniforth is an adventurer, speaker, author and charity ambassador. He has made two attempts to climb Everest and completed numerous endurance challenges. His debut book 'Icefall' was published in March 2016 and is an autobiographical account of his attempts to climb Everest. In July 2017 he became the fastest person to climb all 100 UK county tops in 72 days
Be it a marathon, cycle, hike, mountain, skydive, team challenge, volunteering project, or a sponsored silence (which my family are still encouraging) – the list goes on – more people than ever are taking on personal sponsored challenges as a means of raising money for charity. With so many issues in our world, these everyday fundraisers are not only making a huge contribution to society but getting the physical and mental benefits that doing something good brings.
Having completed a series of similar challenges and organised three fundraising walks for PHASE Worldwide, I’m regularly asked for advice on fundraising. So I wanted to share the advice I’ve been given and what I’ve learnt so far from my own experiences.
First things first…
1) What does sponsorship really mean?
‘Sponsorship’ is a term that has possibly been lost in translation. Sponsorship implies that people get something in return, unlike donations where people expect nothing. My first sponsored challenge was a 10km run where I took the usual approach of knocking on doors with a sponsorship form. Technically people didn’t give you the money if you didn’t complete the challenge. This approach seems less common with the new trend of online fundraising sites like JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving who donate the money to the charity regardless. Whilst the thought of losing the money raised would be a good incentive to carry on, I’ve never experienced anyone asking for money back.
Generally, this means the challenge needs to be that – a challenge. People want to see you squirm. These challenges are all relative to the person. For example, few people would sponsor me to run a marathon: they know I love running and it wouldn’t really challenge me. My goal to run 2:45 at London Marathon next year will push my personal limits but wouldn’t mean anything to the non-runners, whilst they can instantly understand the scale of climbing Everest. For a first-time exercise-hating marathon runner, their friends will understand just what they’re putting themselves through and would be much more likely to donate (or sponsor) them.
If you happen to be supporting a cause that a lot of people feel passionately about they will often donate regardless of the challenge.
2) It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
Without the support, generosity and initiative of other people I would never have hit any of my fundraising targets. It can even get them active too – Climb The UK got friends and the public coming out to walk and cycle with me, getting sponsored by their own friends, with their money going to Young Minds. My sponsors Westgrove Group got their colleagues and partners involved and raised nearly £4,000. A high school in Norfolk came and walked the highest point of Norfolk with me (yes, it does have hills), raising over £850.
Businesses can help massively with raising money, and I wrote more about that on a blog post here at Business of Adventure. Whether it’s asking your own employer for support, or approaching others, have a think about any contacts you have (think smaller local businesses) already. Think of something to add value for them, whether it’s a company logo on your cycling t-shirt, for example. Remember that businesses get lots of similar requests, which brings me on to…
3) Shy bairns get no sweets
We’re scared of rejections or sounding cheeky, and nobody likes asking for money, but we can’t be afraid to ask. My mentor Chris once told me “Shy bairns get no sweets” which stuck with me. Don’t ask just once – we’re all busy and it doesn’t mean people are disinterested, they might just need a nudge. Don’t forget to tell, too. During Climb The UK I was blown away by the generosity from shop-keepers to café owners and people on the street. People inevitably ask where you’re cycling/walking, and literally donating loose change (or cake) on the spot. I had business cards with links to my fundraising page on ready. The donations received were the biggest motivator, like painkillers, that gave me a reason to push on when there was every reason to quit.
4) Widen the net
Social media pleas will only go so far if you’re trying to hit a big charity target. Cover all bases and try smaller events in the build-up – sell raffle tickets, sell cakes at school/college/work, hold a pub quiz or fundraising evening (I did two of these, raising over £3,000 each). Of course, albeit these take extra time on top of everything else, so aren’t practical for everyone.
5) Stand out from the crowd
I didn’t wear an Orangutan costume on the summit of Mont Blanc for fun, although it did keep me toasty, and cheered the French climbers up. Look at your Facebook timeline and you’ll be inundated by fundraising pages and the phrase “I would be very grateful for any spare change”. I’m guilty of this, like anyone. So, how can you make your challenge different? I recently met two fundraisers who are heading to Kilimanjaro (and training in) pink tutus for Cancer Research… now that summit photo is going to stand out!
6) Start with why
The most important question for any fundraiser is why should anyone sponsor or donate to your challenge? Why should they care about the charity? Get some numbers out there and tell them exactly what difference their donation will make. Any testimonials and statistics about the charity’s work and impact will tug at the heart-strings and open purses much more than calling it a ‘worthy cause’, as realistically there’s lots of worthy causes out there who need support.
7) Make people part of the journey
Is there anything you can offer in return? Regular progress updates are important but think about incentives, such as mentions on your blog/social media, or perks like t-shirts for people who sponsor above a certain amount. After Climb The UK I framed some signed photo-prints for the major donators to show my appreciation. Don’t forget to thank people in spades – one adventurer Squash Falconer told me this in my early days of fundraising, because a simple ‘thank you’ really does go a long way, whether in person, online or a video.
8) Share your feelings
Being human on camera will always speak louder than words. If you’re having a rubbish day, you think you can’t continue and wetter than a drowned rat, then there’s nothing like capturing the moment live. People don’t want to see the highlight reel. We relate to the struggles and the discomfort, it’s a challenge after all. Show them what you’re going through, and why.
Even in the build-up to a challenge, where you might be anxious about hitting an upcoming target is a good time to grab your phone/camera. Someone once told me during an expedition that the moments where you feel least like filming yourself are when you need to do it most. During Climb The UK I managed a few of these, and sharing them always encouraged a boost in donations, which spurred me on. Keep it positive though. Sob stories don’t inspire donations.
9) Enjoy the journey
Fundraising has a funny knack of bringing things when you least expect it. Some weeks you’ll make exciting progress. Other weeks feels like getting blood out of a stone. Enjoy the fact that you’re making a difference to a cause you care about, whilst hopefully enjoying the experience of planning, training, meeting people and learning from the challenge itself. Keep positive and take it one day at a time. If you don’t believe in yourself – why should anyone else believe in you?