BT MyDonate

More pain, more gain

Do your fundraisers raise more by putting themselves through more?

Outward Bound Trust City Three Peaks Challenge (photograph: Getty Images)
Outward Bound Trust City Three Peaks Challenge (photograph: Getty Images)

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"Walk around the Lakes in Italy? Yes, sure, I’ll sponsor you. That sounds great. I’ll do it when I’ve got a minute."

"You’re going to shave your head? Really? Completely? Yes I’ll definitely sponsor you – send me the link to your MyDonate page. Are you going to tweet pictures? I’ll tell my friends…"

Why is it that we are more willing to hand over hard cash to someone who’s doing something that we’d find particularly challenging? Last year’s charity craze for dumping buckets of ice-cold water over people or taking a no-makeup selfie raised millions, and raised some interesting questions about the psychology of giving. Why are your donors happy to donate for discomfort?

John Nuttall, Professor of Integrative Psychotherapy at Regent’s University, London, says there’s an element of empathy, in that we can put ourselves in the place of someone doing something personally uncomfortable so we can relate to the suffering and understand what it’s "worth". "Also," says Professor Nuttall, "for the donor, there’s a belief in some cases that ‘if I’m giving you this money, I don’t want you to be getting too good an experience’."

A popular challenge that has fired the imaginations of fundraisers, particularly those with vertigo, is the longest civilian abseil in history, the Outward Bound Trust City Three Peaks Challenge in conjunction with the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity. It took place on 7 September, when a select, daredevil group abseiled from the top of three of the City’s most famous buildings, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie-Talkie – it was 1,916ft to the ground in total.

Kristina Fitzpatrick, City Three Peaks project lead, says: "By offering an experience that quite literally pushes the boundaries of human exploration, we provided participants with the opportunity to conquer a very real fear and achieve something completely heroic – a feeling that money cannot buy.

"I believe it is that feeling of being involved in something truly special that motivates our donors to reach incredible heights in their fundraising, as well as motivating members of the public to get behind the event. They can see that history is being made here, and they want to play their part."
Similar examples on BT MyDonate include fire walking for Parkinson’s UK Northern Ireland and a charity head shave for the If U Care Share Foundation.

So we’ve established that we appreciate someone overcoming a fear, but what about sponsoring someone who’s prepared to endure something physically unpleasant or testing? Professor Nuttall has a theory.

"Social media means that we’re being asked for donations much more frequently now," he says. "Maybe this is a psychological way for us to become more discerning about who we sponsor. We look at each case and think well, if you’re willing to put yourself through that experience, then it’s a worthy cause."

It might also be the case that although few of us have abseiled or skydived, we have all experienced some degree of physical fatigue and discomfort. This makes it easier for us empathise and donations are made in recognition of that pain and discomfort. Andy Hamill, who works for BT MyDonate, has certainly experienced the suffering. He walked 90.2 miles in just 34 hours, from Enniskillen to Belfast, alongside his BT MyDonate team colleagues Seamus Wray and Joanne McCrory, for Children in Need, through some of the worst weather Northern Ireland had seen for decades.

"When I first had the idea of walking to Belfast," says Andy, "people kept saying ‘really?’ However, it got more and more real as we told people about the plans. Once we had the team together, it was the sceptics telling us it was too far and wouldn’t happen that made us more determined to do it. With a lot of the off-the-wall fundraising drives, it’s the incredulity that drives you on. And the more people who get involved, the more you believe in it yourself.

"It was one of those events that broke you and then put you back together again as a stronger person. But we raised £12,300 and we survived. By the time we reached the outskirts of Belfast, every step was agony. We started out as a group of 16 and only eight of us made it to the end."

Professor Nuttall also believes that the psychology of both donating and fundraising relates to our need to repair past damage we might have done, imagined or real, to our loved ones. "Donating to charity allows us to show ‘I’m loveable, I’m a good person’," he says. "It’s an exercise in psychological reparation. So when we look at it in those terms we can see why some people want to incorporate something punitive into the challenge itself."

We’re not suggesting that you should be encouraging your fundraisers to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but you might find they have greater fundraising results when they step outside their comfort zones.

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