What is a charity challenge?
According to the Institute of Fundraising: “the factor which distinguishes ‘a best charities to donate to challenge event’ is that the participant is also receiving a more than notional benefit, which in many cases has a monetary value attached, and seeks to fundraise from supporters in respect of their participation”.
Can smaller charities get in on the act?
In a word: yes! Supporters of smaller charities can raise funds by taking part in any number of ‘open’ overseas challenge events, arranged by charity challenge tour operators such as Classic Tours, Charity Challenge and The Ultimate Travel Company’s Ultimate Challenges.
Charity challenges: the pros and cons
There’s no doubt that overseas challenges can have huge benefits for charities:
Publicity: Overseas challenges are a great way of gaining public attention, particularly if a celebrity is involved.
Long-term support: Charities testify that the intensity of the adventure holiday challenge experience, with its sense of shared achievement and real hardships overcome, often translates into long-term support.
Sustained advance exposure: Kate Favell, World Experiences Event project manager at the British Heart Foundation, points out that those participating in major overseas travel challenges are likely to be engaged in fundraising for many months before an event takes place. Charities therefore benefit greatly from sustained public exposure.
Mission and message – the double whammy: For charities such as the British Heart Foundation, overseas travel challenges are also a great way of reinforcing the lifestyle choices they aim to promote more generally: exercise, healthy eating etc.
But it’s not all positive. It’s important to think about the following, too:
The economic climate: Charities suggest that the downturn has undoubtedly affected overseas challenges, but in subtle ways. According to Denise Davies, Head of Community Fundraising at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, more modest weekend and European challenges have suffered; people are now focusing on their ‘must do’ experiences. In response, the MND Association has changed its strategy, focusing on offering the overseas charity challenge ‘big 3’: Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, and the Great Wall of China. Kate Favell at the BHF reports that fundraisers are also finding it harder, and needing longer, to raise sponsorship. So it’s important to keep in touch with participants to help them if they need extra inspiration or creative fundraising ideas.
The charity/challenge balance: Charles Getliffe at charity travel tour operators Classic Tours, warns charities against being seduced into offering multiple exotic events. It’s not ‘appropriate’, says Charles, for charities to set themselves up as travel agents: fewer, more targeted events send out a better signal all round.
Tour operators: role and choice
The number of companies specialising in overseas charity challenges is growing, and the tour operator you choose will play a crucial role in ensuring your success. In theory, operators handle the logistics of arranging the adventure holiday travel challenge, while charities are responsible for promotion and the collection of monies.
In practice, it’s rarely clear cut, and tour operators usually provide extensive advice and support on such issues as marketing, legal considerations and planning. (It’s worth noting that The Ultimate Travel Company’s Ultimate Challenges recommend beginning to plan any overseas challenge event 12-14 months in advance.)
The Institute of Fundraising recommend investigating both the tour operator and their subcontractors thoroughly – for example, look at safety records and ethical policy – and cross-check with any relevant industry bodies. Consider your own rights as a charity if you are unable to proceed with your planned challenge, and also what kind of deal the operator is offering participants: for example, are they being asked to sign unreasonable liability waivers?
How much can overseas challenges raise?
Obviously, this will vary greatly but, as Charles Getliffe at Classic Tours reiterates, it is important always to keep The Charity Commission’s guidelines in mind. Any challenge should raise 50 per cent, and ideally 60 per cent, more than the cost of administrating and operating the challenge.
Denise Davies provides the following example:
A recent MND Association Machu Picchu trek cost each participant £2,900. The funds raised by the 38 participants totalled £191,000. £75,000 of this was spent on operating and administrating costs, including a payment of £67,000 to the tour operators, resulting in a final total of £116,000 net being raised for the charity.
Which travel charity challenge?
The fun bit. But while a Peruvian pony trek might grab the attention, for some charities a European bike ride is more feasible. Plus, the latter will earn you low carbon points as well: don’t forget to think about possible critical coverage your event might attract. Other issues to think about include:
Other charities’ activities: The Institute of Fundraising recommend researching other charities’ activities to avoid conflicts and over-saturation (Everest can only accommodate so many sponsored mountaineers!).
Location: Consider likely hazards – natural and human – and consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if necessary. Publicity can also be harder to come by if the location you choose for your event is obscure.
Current support: What are the interests of your current supporters? Profiling current donors in order to identify areas of interest is essential, plus it’s important to be guided by their likely capabilities. An Everest challenge isn’t ideal if most of your supporters are in their seventies!
Bespoke or open? Tour operators typically offer ‘bespoke’ challenges (exclusive to the charity concerned) and ‘open’ challenges. Open challenges are conceived and planned by tour operators themselves, and participants then sign up to raise money for whatever cause they choose. As Connie Potter of The Ultimate Travel Company points out, bespoke challenges require financial commitments from charities – for example, a non-refundable deposit for group flights – and therefore aren’t always an option for smaller organisations. However, the benefits of bespoke events are considerable: exclusive branding, and a greater team spirit (due to the fact of a uniting common cause), which is more likely to translate into long-term support. Classic Tours’ Charles Getliffe advises charities who aim to enlist more than 30 participants to opt for a bespoke event.
As the Institute of Fundraising points out, the legal issues surrounding overseas charity challenges are extremely complex, and charities must seek independent legal advice. While the Institute can’t such provide advice itself, it suggests the Charity Law Association as one source of help.
The Institute’s own Charity Challenges Events Code of Fundraising Practice is essential reading for anyone wishing to set up a challenge event. It offers a source of best practice guidance, but should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. The Institute also emphasise that the Charity Challenges Events Code must be read in conjunction with the Code of Fundraising Practice as a whole.
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