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Does the motivation matter to charities?

It was with some trepidation my new husband David approached me recently to tell me he’d decided to cycle to Barcelona…in nine days. But it was OK – he was doing it for charity.

I know him well enough to know that the last bit was not his main motivation. It was the actual crazy, hare-brained challenge of cycling 900-odd miles with three mates in a ridiculously short amount of time that was his real stimulus.

When I think of colleagues and friends who have embarked on similar marathons or bike rides, I realise that it’s the actual challenge of completing the events that is the real reason they are doing it, with the fundraising element either a condition of taking part, or tagged on for good measure.

And it made me wonder if the charities mind? Should it be charity first, challenge after? Or does it not really matter?

Take David, for example. After deciding on the challenge, he then sat down and thought: which charity? Without having a specific affiliation with any,  he settled on the very worthy Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity as the recipient for his intended £4,000 prize. I’m sure they’ll be hugely grateful for the donation, which will no doubt save many lives.

But I found it interesting, being a complete couch potato myself, that the only thing that could motivate me to do something similar (though far less impressive), would be the benefit it would have to charity. It would be the thought of the good it would do, rather than the motivation of seeing the El Clasico football game in a bar in Barcelona at the end of the nine days, which is my husband’s.

Don’t get me wrong – I am hugely impressed and proud of what he is going to achieve and know that he is glad that a lot of good will come out of his expedition. As am I awe-struck by colleagues who spend months training for the marathon in all weathers. But it did make me wonder.

And, whatever his motivation, it’s still £4,000 more than I’ve raised from my sofa.

If you want to find out more about his crazy challenge visit his JustGiving page.

  • David Quainton

    I think charities and people who undertake these adventures end up with a vaguely symbiotic relationship. It would have been quite easy for me, before assigning a charity that I genuinely believe is amazing, to quit the idea.

    What the charity side of it does is prevent me from going ‘oh, I’ll do it next year’, and then never doing so because there’s already a considerable amount of money that will help sick children riding on it. So that motivates me riding to work in the snow, like on Monday, and not drinking Dr Pepper and beer and not eating rubbish.

    From the charity’s point of view it gets a decent and useful donation, which is what it exists for. It’s like the charity is a Nile crocodile and I’m an Egyptian plover cleaning its teeth and getting dinner as a result. Essentially, what’s not to like?

  • Rob Jackson

    I think this is really interesting Gemma.

    I’m used to debating the question of motivation in a volunteering context. Motivations to give time – and how they change over time – are a crucial element of effective volunteer engagement. Motivations to give are also at the core of many debates about volunteering, see the current (indeed long-standing) controversy about whether unemployed people being forced to do unpaid work to retain their benefits are volunteers or not.

    Yet these questions rarely come up in a fundraising context, even though two-thirds of volunteers spend their donated time raising money. In fact the main occasions I can recall where motivations to give money have been questioned have been when donations come from controversial sources such as drug companies, the BNP etc..

    Does that mean fundraisers are only worried about motivations when it potentially makes them look bad?

    Does it mean volunteer managers get too easily hung up on whether someone’s motivations are ‘pure’?

    I don’t know. Interesting to consider though.