This is one of those blog posts that might come across as hypocritical, preaching or judgemental. Apologies. But I’m also glad, as they often spark the most interesting conversations.
Here I go.
I’ve been mulling over the relationship between Adventure and Charity for a while. Perhaps ‘Adventure with Purpose’, or ‘Adventure for Good’ might be better phrases. There needn’t be a link, of course. Olympians don’t have to raise the profile of Donkeys r Us whilst striving towards their individual ambition. Entrepreneurs are not expected to complicate their busy days evangelising for Save The Whale. And most expeditions focus only on their direct goal. (Many exemptions apply, of course. A nod, say, to Jess, Tom, Ran.)
However, for some reason there is often a connection between an expedition and a charitable good cause. There are some inspiring examples in the industry (Patagonia’s activism, Haglöfs’ sustainability goals, 1% for the planet, Alpkit’s Foundation) and from individuals (Rob Greenfield, Ben Smith, Jamie McDonald). This led me to consider if we might all be able to do a little more with the opportunities, voices and skills that we have. How can we all do our little bit of good, better?
Some of the reasons I’ve seen for linking adventures and charities are:
- A passion for a charity and its work; helping the charity (through cash or PR) is one of the core aims of trip.
- Raising the sponsorship necessary for a trip to happen.
- Creating wider good out of something that otherwise is just a personal challenge.
- Offering justification for a self-indulgent trip, the “raising awareness for world peace” Pepsi commercial end of the spectrum.
My own experiences illustrate a few of these and may be useful for you to consider in planning your own adventures. (None of these, in any way, have been particularly onerous. I could have done far more, so please don’t think I am painting myself as a paragon of virtue.)
- Cycled coast to coast with two mates, aged 14. We raised a couple of hundred quid for the British Heart Foundation, and were mostly chuffed because they gave us a free t-shirt. Do something for fun, tack on a minor good deed.
- Off I pedalled round the world, with the Hope and Homes for Children logo on my website. I gave plugs to the charity through my email newsletter every so often, gave a load of school talks, mentioned them in interviews, and just about squeaked to my overall goal of raising £1 per mile. Do something big and make a bit of an effort to amplify a charity.
- Trying to raise big funding for expensive expeditions, mentioning in proposals how the expedition would raise wads of cash and garner great publicity for whatever charity I figured would resonate with the potential sponsor. This never sat comfortably with me, an ambitious return on investment quote as a means to launch a fun adventure.
- Giving talks, for free, at charity fund-raising events. These days I say no to most requests (a lack of time; a lack of effort put into some events when they get a speaker for free; a preference to focus on a few causes rather than spread thin etc. By the way, here is a useful link if, like me, you find it hard to say ‘no’), I get paid for a few, and I do some for free. Offering my ‘professional skill’ as a charitable donation.
- Running my own charity events (aka relying on people to give up their time and expertise to speak for free!). The 18 Nights of Adventure that have raised funds and awareness for Hope and Homes for Children have been a joy (albeit a joy that is a massive pain in the arse to organise). Using my time, contacts and audience to do some good.
- As well as cash, charities need the oxygen of publicity. Adventurers are able to help with this. I am delighted to be a patron of Hope and Homes for Children, The Youth Adventure Trust, and The Yorkshire Dales Society, for example.
- Finally, in the spirit of 1% for the Planet, but without the fees or the paperwork, I give a minimum of 1% of my income to environmental causes. It would be better if I gave more, of course, but this is a simple approach. Give cash.
Recently I have:
- Presented three charity evenings to decent sized audiences. They raised over £50,000. That’s more than I raised in four years of effort and hundreds of talks when cycling round the world!
- Helped make a film with a charity that has been watched, on various websites, more than a quarter of a million times.
- Written a blog post for a charity that has been read a few hundred times.
- Helped plant trees on a community planting day. (I only managed about 20 before my back hurt and I went in search of a cup of tea.)
The different impacts of these different activities are enormous. I’m glad I did them all. But, being lazy, I am always keen to maximise the impact to effort ratio in everything I do.
So the two things on my mind after this are:
- 1. How can I maximise the impact of what I do, and
- 2. What can nudge others – you, the reader – into ‘putting something back’ through your adventures without getting all hairshirt and martyrish about it?
If you are planning a big adventure I’d urge you to consider whether using it to raise funds / awareness for a cause you care about would be appropriate / feasible.
If you do decide to link your adventure to a cause then think carefully about your real motives for doing so, think clearly about what low-hanging fruit is available (the easy things you can do that will help), and think sensibly about how you can maximise the impact you have and minimise the lip service.
I am pretty sure that I am at the peak of my powers right now. I do not expect my profile to grow much larger. I say that not out of modesty. It is partly through choice (I feel the beat of different drums calling to me these days), and partly because every sun sets. New adventurers appear and old ones get grumpy and fade away to running quietly up hills on their own. So my current audience is about as big and engaged as it is ever going to be. I am not famous (thank god!), nor epically heroic and awesome (alas!), but I am aware that I do have a niche audience and therefore a degree of a voice.
My question then is what can I do better, more cleverly, and right now, to leverage adventure for good?
And how can the public-facing adventure community, of which I’m a member, be less narcissistic and more community minded? I do not include those accomplishing genuinely difficult, inspiring stuff in this category, nor the millions of people who have normal lives and squeeze in adventures as much as they can. But how can I rally the individuals in an audience bigger than me – YOU in other words – through my voice-piece of adventure, to feel inspired to contribute to something bigger than ourselves?
Adventure in itself is a good thing to do with our time and life. But there are even more important things. These are things that we all care about too, not boring stuff like pensions and tax law. The environment and charitable causes close to our heart are two big examples. Yvon Chouinard seems an apt person to quote at the end of this piece about trying to learn to live a life that combines the things we love doing with the things we know to be important. “To do good you actually have to do something.”
This post is neither as pithy nor coherent as I thought it would be when I began. That, I am sure, is because my mind is not as coherent on this subject as I would like it to be. Which means, as I asked above, that I would love your thoughts, criticisms, links to articles and books, to help me / us delve deeper.