Opinion: Tales of raising funds selfishly to inspire us all

One of the books I have packed to read on holiday next week is Peter Ackroyd's The Clerkenwell Tales, modelled on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

It reminds me of recent news stories I had been reading that talked about the different ways charities raise money and the impact this has on both their reputation and public support for their cause.

This led me to thinking whether there could be a similar volume, called The Fundraiser's Tales, drawn from our sector's own experiences. Here are a couple to start with.

Firstly, The Peacemaker's Tale, in which reality TV takes to the pavement.

The US charity Peacemakers maintains that its concept of 'street retreats' plays on middle-class altruism and 'feel-good masochism'. For £150 you can live rough for three days and two nights. The experience apparently gives people a chance to find out about what street life is like, thus raising awareness and cash at the same time. Insights gained by participants range from "transforming yourself" to "bearing witness to what actually is" - both, I think, contenders for Private Eye's Pseud's Corner.

British homelessness charities are quick to debunk the initiative as patronising and oversimplifying the issues. While this is undoubtedly true, it's also an intriguing, clever idea. It has the potential to capture the endless guilt of the middle classes, present itself as a therapy, allow people to make a statement, attract dare-devils and even to educate.

Secondly, The Tandemer's Tale - one of self-improvement, human endurance, personal achievement ... and fundraising. Jane Tomlinson has raised an amazing £1m for cancer charities. Inspired by her faith and living with cancer, Jane believed her best route to survival was to physically challenge her own condition head-on. She has also generated positive publicity for cancer charities and substantial sums for the cause.

The message is that finding a way of fighting your own battles can generate publicity and role models, as well as cash for others. In an increasingly sophisticated world, activities that engage the potential donor in both the cause and in something beneficial to themselves seem to work. As the US writer HL Mencken said, "A show of altruism is respected in the world chiefly for selfish motives."

Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner, but writes in a personal capacity.

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