BT MyDonate

The age of giving

Ashok Bhardwaj: began running at 64
Ashok Bhardwaj: began running at 64

Charities tend to focus their fundraising ideas on the young and energetic, and simply request donations from the older generation. But are older fundraisers, who tend to have both a wider circle of potential donors and the time to commit to long-term fundraising efforts, being overlooked?

Ashok Bhardwaj is a Hertfordshire-based marathon runner. He is new to the sport, having only begun running at the age of 64. "I needed a new challenge," he says. "I had reached the state in golf where I couldn’t improve on my handicap when I read about an 80-year old marathon runner. I decided to begin long-distance walking and move on to marathons if I could get a ballot place. So I did a lot of walking for a year, then got a place to run for the Consortium for Street Children, for which I am a director and trustee. So I switched from walking to jogging. I can only jog, not run, at my age." 

Bhardwaj  began with the North London Half Marathon and the Reading Half Marathon before embarking on the London Marathon, he thoroughly enjoyed himself and raised a staggering £10,500 on the way, via BT MyDonate.

Another older fundraiser, who chose MyDonate because it charges no commission, is Arran Linton-Smith (left), 60, a cyclist from the east Midlands and a fundraiser for the National Autistic Society. He has a personal connection with the charity, having been diagnosed with autism. Linton-Smith finished first in two 100km events in 2015 and in 2014, averaging 23mph around the Ride London 100 event. 

"I was 55 when I started fundraising," he says. "I was already cycling, but the fundraising aspect focused me to do bigger and greater things.  A by-product of my autism is that I have to go overboard. It was a no-brainer that I ought to be fundraising for the NAS."

Linton-Smith’s fundraising efforts include cycling the Kardung La, a pass in the Himalayas, over an 18,380ft-high mountain and Ride London 100. He even found a place in Guinness World Records for having the most brand logos on a single piece of sports clothing after convincing 110 companies to advertise on his jersey, raising a further £5,000. 

Linton-Smith and  Bhardwaj wear their older fundraiser status with pride. "I am conscious that I am older compared with the other cyclists," says  Linton-Smith. "They tend to be in their thirties or forties, but I’m quick for my age." 

Bhardwaj agrees. "I am usually the oldest when I run marathons. The other runners don’t know how old I am because I look a lot younger. The only negativity I experience is from myself, in that I feel I am young but I can’t keep up with the youngsters."

Sue Woodcock (on right of picture) took a slightly less physical approach to fundraising, asking guests invited to her 70th birthday parties (one in Harpenden and one in Manchester) to donate money instead of bringing gifts. She arranged picnic parties – guests bought a dish each and Woodcock bought the drinks. Her target was £1,500 and the first party alone raised £800.

She’s raising money for a friend’s charity, Africa's Children in Education. ACE is a small charity that seeks to provide children from very poor circumstances with the opportunity of an education. Its primary focus is to build a primary school in a remote and impoverished community in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. "I’ve got enough possessions; there just wasn't anything else I needed," Woodcock says. "So it seemed the obvious solution to ask people to donate to such a good cause instead." 

Woodcock worked for charities professionally before retiring, and volunteered for charities afterwards. "You stop when you retire and you need to find things to keep your hand in, as it were," she says. "I’d recommend fundraising to other people my age, definitely. It gives pleasure to everybody and just makes you feel happier."

As well as benefiting the charities, what personal benefits has fundraising brought to Bhardwaj and Linton-Smith? "The marathon is going to be part of my life now as long as I keep getting the tickets," says  Bhardwaj. "My ambition is to run in the London marathon every year I am able. Next year I will be running for Sense, another very worthy cause."

For Linton-Smith, it’s been a form of personal development. "What I’ve got out of it has been immense. It’s given me a whole new skillset in marketing," he says. "I had to sell myself to fundraise, so I approached the marketing department at work and they showed me how to put stuff together. It’s taken me right outside my comfort zone. I’ve appeared on local radio five or six times, on Radio 4 and on TV twice. These are things that five years ago I would never have imagined I had the capacity to do."

So there’s no reason why older fundraisers should not be at least as successful as their younger counterparts? "None," says  Bhardwaj. "Older people have had time to collect a wider circle of friends and contacts. In fact, out of the £10,500 I raised, £7,000 came from just three organisations."

If Bhardwaj and Linton-Smith are anything to go by, charities need to look to their older supporters not simply as possible donors, but as valuable, dynamic and active fundraisers in their own right. 

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