I received a tweet the other day from someone walking the Inca trail in Peru to raise money for the MS Society, together with a link to make a donation. Now, clearly this is a cause close to my heart, but there was something about this particular request for my support that felt somehow wrong. I have absolutely no problem with people raising money to support MS charities in their work – I’m all for it – but somehow the exotic location for the event seemed a bit jarring.
Coincidentally, shortly after reading that tweet, I received the latest email update from Mil Millington, the author of “Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About”. Amidst news of the latest amusing misunderstandings with his German partner, Mil mentioned that he was training to run a marathon:
“The more socially attuned of you will have noticed that, despite doing a marathon, I have not asked that you sponsor me to do that marathon. I'm not going to either. Don't misunderstand: I'm not against people raising money by running marathons, or by doing anything else. However, I can't help but feel that there's a, erm, 'strange correlation' between the things some people do to raise money for charity, and the things those people want to do anyway….Thus, if you sponsored me to do my marathon for charity then, contrary to the general view, I reckon it'd be you who'd have done something 'for charity' more than me. “
Yes. That’s it: the strange correlation between the things that people do to raise money and the things they probably wanted to do anyway. That’s certainly true of me and the half marathon: I decided that I wanted to run it, and felt that if I was going to do it, I might as well raise a bit of money too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, although I was conscious when asking for sponsorship that it’s very easy in those circumstances to emotionally blackmail your friends and colleagues into contributions that, for whatever reason, they might not want to make. “Will you sponsor me?” can unintentionally sound like a question to which the only possible answer is “Yes” as the alternative will probably offend. My run coincided with a big push at work to raise money in support of Macmillan. What right did I have to badger people into supporting my chosen charity too?
As it turned out, people were very generous and I was delighted with the total we raised for the MS Society. All it cost me to raise more than £3,000 for a fantastic cause was the price of the race entry and the time it took to train. The same can’t really be said of a trip to Peru, can it?
Mind you, why should I care? The money raised as a result of this trip is ultimately going to the same place, isn’t it? What’s the difference? So what if this guy is raising the money doing something that he has perhaps always wanted to do? As long as all that money raised through sponsorship goes to the charity and not towards the cost of the trip, who gives a damn?
Hmm. Maybe it's just me, and I know that the charity is the winner here, but it still feels a bit weird. I’m hoping to go skiing this winter. Will you sponsor me?
See what I mean?
I could be wrong, but I think that most of the sponsorship we raised was tied up in who were are and not in what we were doing: if we were running the full marathon instead of only the half, would we have raised any more money? I doubt it, I really do. Would you have given me £20 instead of a tenner? Why should you?
Why should I expect you to?
(Probably best not to get me started on the hordes of people in Nairobi airport in their corporate t-shirts, all on their way back from climbing Kilimanjaro..... more money for good causes, I'm sure, but.....)
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