A Look At Life: Mountain High

24th August 2012

Mount Kilimanjaro must be busier than the M25…

Heather Harris

If my email inbox is correct then approximately ten percent of my friends, family and very intangible acquaintances are up it at any one time.

And I’m paying for their trips.

Well, not exactly – but in the form of sponsorship. Not a week goes by without a message entitled ‘Please Help’ or ‘Charity Climb’ or ‘Hope You Don’t Mind Me Asking But…’ popping up on my computer screen.

Gone are the days when Boy Scouts knocked on the front door for ‘Bob-a-job week’ or schoolchildren came home clutching a dog eared sponsorship form for the annual Swimathon in aid of a new set of goal posts.

These days ‘giving’ has gone viral. The rows and columns of photocopied forms have been replaced by emailed links to JustGiving (a private for-profit company formed in 2000 for the administration of charitable donations, and which charges a 5% fee on amounts raised). This not only allows you to donate online using a credit card and claim Gift Aid but also publicly reveals your level of generosity. Fine if you get in quick with your tenner but leave it a day and you’ll be listed alongside the big hitters (usually close members of the family) who have given at least treble. And how bad does that make you feel.

Not that I’m against giving for charity. On the contrary having run 11 marathons and raised the odd squillion pounds myself, I have been on both sides of the fence – but I refuse to sit on it when asked my view of raising money.

There must be some ground rules, the main one being that you only approach people whom you know well enough to ask to their face or at least over the telephone ( by voice, not text!), so no cutting and pasting your entire contacts list from Friends Reunited, college reunions and office colleagues from the job you left 27 years ago and never liked anyway.

I’ve had requests from Kilimanjaro climbers and Three Peaks’ walkers whom I can’t remember – and don’t recognise even when they attach a photo of them sweaty from their achievements.

The second rule is to make it a suitably hard personal sacrifice. Back in the day, those Boys Scouts certainly earned their bob in our house after cleaning two cars (inside and out) and walking three dogs. And schoolchildren would be sponsored by the length or the mile so if they only did one then 10p was duly donated.

Somehow no-one ever asks for money to be allocated ‘per part of achievement’ any more – you don’t get requests for £1 per vertical mountain mile or 50p per horizontal mile cycled between Lands End and John O’Groats on that new £2,000 Bradley Wiggins go faster bike.

And that’s because it’s adults who are doing these supposedly back-breaking challenges and not their children. Pocket money sized donations no longer apply.

And this does raise the question of why they’re doing it. There’s nothing more moving than receiving a sponsorship request from a close friend whom you know has a real personal affiliation with a charity. The annual Race for Life series of 5k runs in aid of cancer attracts the millions of people who have lost someone to this terrible disease and it deserves to raise the amount it does.

But charity is now big business and will entice people to run, jump, cycle and climb for them by offering special packages including accommodation, transport and a free t shirt.

I know that these are still deserving causes but somehow receiving a request to support a donkey sanctuary in Guatemala from a long lost schoolfriend who wants to cycle from Brighton to Paris over a long weekend in August doesn’t have me reaching for my debit card… particularly when you notice that participants in these exotic adventures are predominantly from a certain income bracket. After all, flying to an African mountain isn’t cheap and nor is taking a week off work to do it. Surely if they just gave a percentage of their bonus every year to the charity they could raise more without having to don any Lycra? So what’s the incentive?

Age is a big clue. I’m convinced all charities have a mid life crisis database. Hit 40 and it’s amazing how many couch potatoes suddenly throw down the Radio Times and pick up a copy of Triathlon Monthly. Thinking generously, this could be because they’ve decided that they want to ‘give something back to society’ but, more realistically, could it be that they have something to prove?…

…which is, of course, all well and good if only they’d remember that charity begins at home. For many of us, finding enough money to pay the mortgage is a big enough mountain to climb without being guilt-tripped into funding a friend or acquaintance’s latest age-defying charitable ascent of Kilimanjaro.

Find Your Local