I had a plan to change how they fundraised, to reduce the effort and up the ambition a bit. First, I wanted to change the kind of events we took on and the kind of money we aimed for, going for fewer events but doing them on a bigger scale and making them repeatable year on year. Second, I wanted to up the amount brought in by regular donors, aiming towards the all-of-it mark. Third, I wanted to get some decent chunks out of grants and trusts if the first two parts of the plan didn’t cover us.
A couple of years ago we started stage one, rounding up friends, friends of friends, co-workers and co-workers’ friends to run a 10k or half marathon. We had a team of 13 aiming for about £4,000, a figure almost stupidly ambitious against what we’d had before. We got about £7,500 once we counted Gift Aid. I can’t even tell you the level of smugness I was walking around with. I’m talking Gwyneth Paltrow.
Last year we started stage two, the regular donors thing. In the world of fundraising, regular donations are the joy of joys. You ask someone for money once and they keep giving it to you month after month, and all you’ve got to do check your bank statements to see if they’ve stopped. Back before we started on this we were getting a couple of hundred a month from the trustees and a friend or two but mostly when we encouraged people to give regularly they responded by not doing that at all. We changed how we went about asking, talking up the idea of being a small band of dedicated noble types helping to keep this small charity going. People started giving and got us up to £8,500 a year, more than half our running costs. At that point, by comparison, Gwyneth was looking modest, full of doubt and insecurities.
Last year brought us down a Paltrow or two. Rerunning the runs we had a lot of people who said they’d be up for it didn’t bother. We ended up with fewer runners and a lot less cash, coming out with about £3,500; a top-five fundraiser but disappointing against the first year. And there’s no Plan B with this stuff, there’s no one writing cheques if we don’t bring in the cash. It’s just us.
This week I got started on the third, hopefully still annual, big fundraiser. Here we’re looking to get people running again but also figuring ways to get lazier types to do something they’re at least halfway up for. So far we’ve nicked the idea of feeding yourself for a pound a day from whichever charity thought it up first, and added the Daal Bhat Challenge where, like a native Nepali, you have to eat curry and rice three times a day for a week. The trick is now to find people who can be bothered doing this and get them to do it, and find people who can’t be bothered and see if we can get them to do it too. The trick is then to find people who want to give us money and have them give it to us, and find people who want to keep their money and see if we can take at least a little from them.
There’s a brutal bit of maths here. We need £7,500. If we set a realistic average of £150 sponsorship per entrant, excluding Gift Aid, we need about 40 people. They’d put us to £6,000, with Gift Aid taking us to £7,500. We’ve got four trustees plus me who have basically no choice about doing this, and four people who’ve already signed to triathlons and half marathons. That leaves us with 31 people to recruit. We’ve got 13 people from the past two years we can ask, some of whom might be interested. That leaves us with a minimum of 18 new people to find. And we’re not the Race for Life, we can’t go putting up posters on subways or adverts on TV. This is ambitious for us. This is pressure. This is an assload of consequences just waiting.
The thing with fundraising is you have to dress it up like it’s fun. You have to be all positive and win people over with charm and enthusiasm and flattery. I have to put aside the panic and the maths that keeps me awake. Trying to get money from people, I tell them how much good it’s going to do. What keeps me awake is the opposite of that. It’s the absence of their money and the bad things its absence will do. If we don’t bring in this cash what’ll happen is we don’t pay rent on the boys’ houses and we don’t buy them food. We take them out of school and out of the houses and put them back in the orphanages they were living in before, in the orphanages where 150 children cram in together. We will fail them completely. We need to get this money.
That whooshing noise you just heard was the sound of my sphincter closing shut.
Photo credit: The Zero