OPINION: Doing more harm than good?

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

A tough one landed on the trustees' table this month. Each year, like many other charities, we boost our funds by organising a Three Peaks' Challenge with sponsored teams of hardy souls tackling Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in the space of 24 hours. This year, though, we have received heartfelt pleas from local people and the National Parks' Authority about the disruption and environmental damage such events cause. They have asked us to consider cancelling.

Most charities share a basic world view that revolves around the notion of creating a better, fairer, happier place. Under that umbrella, we can normally accommodate both the idea of fund-raising to help target groups and proper stewardship of the countryside and creation.

Yet on this occasion, one is cancelling out the other. So we can either take the small-box approach and say to hell with the natural landscape.

Or we can adopt the big-box approach and acknowledge that the damage we will inflict in one area will cancel out any good that results from the event.

It's no secret that times are hard and getting harder for fundraisers.

The prospect of turning our backs on £40,000 in income is not an attractive one, but we have decided to withdraw gracefully from these three slabs of high ground to take the moral high ground. It is especially galling then to hear that some of our regulars have been approached by other charities with no such compunction. Reports from the front-line suggest that there are just as many competitors as in previous years, but they are working with a dwindling bunch of charities.

The problem would seem to be one of education. We need to explain clearly to our supporters our reasons for pulling out. We need to ask them important questions about quite what they hope to achieve by taking part. And, sceptical though I have been in the past about the plethora of such challenges, we have to find new ways and settings for harnessing their durable appeal.

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