MND & Me Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with extreme fundraising events such as trekking Everest Base Camp.
We live in an age of extremes – extreme weather, extreme demands on our time and attention, hi-octane extreme sports we can’t get enough of, but have you heard of extreme fundraising?
It is exactly what the name says. A new approach to fundraising which is more fun than a chook raffle at the pub, more effective than a cake stall at a fete and more life-changing for the participants than a sophisticated social media campaign could ever aspire to be.
Ben Southall, the Expedition Director with Best Life Adventures, has made a career out of taking people on extreme adventures for personal growth and to digitally disconnect to help them gain perspective on their lives.
However, increasingly he is finding a new client base in charities and organisations which are ready to embrace a new way of raising funds and are reaping substantial rewards as a result.
“Extreme fundraising is an actual thing,” Ben, who is best known to Australians as the winner of the 2009 Best Job in the World Competition as Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, explained. “And it is growing more rapidly than anyone would have ever predicted.
“People want to support good causes. It is just something which seems to be hardwired into most of us. But at the same time, we are also experiencing the new phenomena of donor fatigue, where people are being asked to donate to so many good causes through so many forms of media that donation requests are in danger of becoming white noise which potential donors filter out.
“It’s not that the dollars and goodwill are not there. It’s just the competition for them is so fierce it is becoming harder for charities and causes to be heard above the clamour of those wanting those dollars and goodwill.”
How extreme fundraising has worked for MND & Me Foundation
In 2018 Ben worked with the MND & Me Foundation to organise a fundraising Everest Base Camp Trek. A group of 44 adventurers signed up for the gruelling trek, raising an impressive $190,000 for the Queensland-based Foundation in the process.
MND & Me has a history of embracing new ways of raising funds. In 2015 the organisation took 42 runners to participate in the New York Marathon, raising an impressive $239,000 in sponsorship and donations.
The group also holds the annual Pies to Pacific Ride where cyclists ride from the iconic Yatala Pie Shop to Byron Bay raising a total of $313,000 in the past few years.
“We believe it is important to know who your supporters are and the goals they want to achieve and how they can support your cause,” Paul Olds, CEO of MND and Me Foundation explains.
“By providing them with opportunities to make a difference and doing so while doing bucket list items at the same time has led to generally great outcomes for us.
“You would be surprised by who wants to get in and help. For the New York trip, we had six or seven people on that trip who had never run before. They got swept up in the bucket list idea and loved that they were supporting us while doing it.”
Olds says he has found that per head money raised at bucket list events “far outstripped” other events and the company adopts the policy that anyone going – including the CEO – pays full price so all funds benefit the organisation.
“We also found that our supporters really enjoyed the opportunity to challenge themselves and, unexpectedly, that translated into larger donations with donors wanting the donation they make to match the strenuous effort they have put in,” Paul says.
“People like to be working towards a purpose and adventure and extreme fundraising allows them to do that. The more we engage our supporters and ask what they want from us, the more we find it is different for different people. For others, they are just happy to make a small donation. By listening to what our supporters want, we are giving them every opportunity to support us.”
How passion and hard work inspires donors
Ben is also working with not-for-profit ALIVE, an initiative to address the issue of youth suicide, tailoring two Everest Base Camp expeditions for them.
Additionally, Ben is rolling out his fundraising Cycling of the World’s Highest Road model where participants cycle the Leh-Manali Highway, located in remote northern India and dubbed one of the most challenging roads in the world.
“The appetite to give has not waned at all,” Ben explains. “What has waned is the impulse people feel to donate when there are so many worthwhile and important causes calling for their attention and money.
“By attracting their attention, charities exponentially increase their chances of being able to receive donations but the challenge is doing this in a way which encourages and promotes engagement.
“Asking people to train for six months to climb to Everest Base Camp or ride a bike on a highway in India certainly encourages engagement in ways which are quite unique. It asks the donor to become fully involved in what they are doing and the passion they derive from that is something which those around them pick up on and want to support.
“The results can be individuals achieving personal milestones, feeling the support and encouragement of those around them all while raising money for a cause which is usually something they are already passionate about.
“Nobody loses in this scenario.”
Ben said while the traditional ways of fundraising will always have a place – such as community fun runs – the noise and din of causes seeking the financial support of donors is not likely to abate anytime soon.
“The challenge is not just raising money now,” he adds. “It is standing out and that can be tough to do in a cluttered market.
“Experience-based fundraising is not something which is going to work for every organisation and every cause, but at the very least, it is time for those who are pursuing donations and goodwill to reconsider what they are doing to rise above the noise.
“I have no doubt extreme fundraising will continue to evolve and am excited to see where it takes us and donors.”