'Donor fatigue' hits overseas challenge events

People resent 'paying for someone's holiday', senior fundraisers from Scope and the British Heart Foundation tell the Institute of Fundraising National Convention

Red Nose Day's Kilimanjaro challenge 2009
Red Nose Day's Kilimanjaro challenge 2009

Overseas charity challenge events have fallen victim to ‘donor fatigue’ in recent years, two senior fundraisers told delegates at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention yesterday.

Events that are often perceived by potential participants and supporters as comparatively easy, such as treks to Machu Picchu in Peru, are being rejected in favour of more challenging events, often in the UK, according to Kate Favell, world experiences project manager at the British Heart Foundation, and Alison Peet, senior challenge events fundraiser at Scope.

"It’s much harder to attract supporters to high-value overseas events, but UK events such as cycling are becoming increasingly popular," said Peet.

"The key to successful overseas challenges is attracting cause-led participants. In 2004, we could insert two Guardian adverts and sign up 90 people to a Machu Picchu trip. That doesn’t work any more."

Favell, whose charity raised £9.2m from events last year, said: "We are having to adapt to the changing demands of customers. China and Peru and are no longer so profitable."

Favell attributed the decline to a number of factors, including the economic downturn, an increased number of tour events companies and more smaller charities entering the market. She also cited resentment among donors at paying for what they regard as someone else’s holiday.

"The market is saturated," she said. "In their heyday about five years ago, it was no problem, but now people are less likely to be able to cover the shortfalls in minimum fundraising."

Peet reported a similar trend: "High minimum sponsorship is a difficult sell, because of the perception that it’s just a holiday."

However, Favell and Peet said challenge trips to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania had performed extremely well. "Kilimanjaro has the extreme challenge element and has benefited from the Comic Relief effect," said Peet.

Favell said UK events with an element of extreme challenge were also booming, such as the Three Peaks Challenge, which can be completed with no time off work. "But the extreme challenge element is key," she said. "Off-road cycling and riding events are also very strong markets."

See our round-up of news and views from this year's convention

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