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Adventure for Good?

 

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 SmithJamie 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.
    Coast to coast cycle
  • 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.

Thank you.

Read Comments

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Comments

  1. Tim Croydon Posted

    The methods you’ve described are certainly good for raising awareness and money, but they’re indirect methods. What about considering how to use ‘Adventure’ to more directly influence and help others? I know there are organisations that use adventurous activities to excite and empower those less able (autistic, physically disabled, etc.).
    (And that’s certainly not meant to belittle the value of the indirect approach of course – horses for courses and all that)
    Much of your inspirational nature is because you appeal to ‘normal’ people, encouraging us to get out and do something, anything, beyond our comfort zone. That attitude could easily be applied directly to those who are normally constrained in where they can go or what they’re expected to be able to do regardless of where their threshold for adventure is.

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      Thank you for your thoughts – definitely worthwhile. People directly helping with adventure are real stars and I admire them a lot.

      Reply
  2. I love this post.
    The one adventure I did was for charity.
    I have to say I had never previously been attracted to adventure but it was an amazing way to earn money for charity (which I hadn’t really done previously either).
    For me, it was the perfect formula. I had planned the fundraising before really knowing what the journey would entail, set myself a massive, unachievable target which really spurred me on to do something a bit crazy to make people donate. I’m not certain that this should be the way to get the drive to do the adventure but it really changed how I approached the whole thing.
    I managed to raise over £21k in total. Having said that, the whole thing ended up putting me at the end of my overdraft but that wasn’t the point.
    Taking stupid, dangerous risks and getting massive thrills when there’s the possibility of making a load of cash for charity feels great to me.
    I’m not sure I could justify having a biggish scale adventure for any other reason than shouting like mad about something I really, really believe in. It’s a great formula and I can’t wait to do it again.
    For me it’s all about the fundraising, otherwise it’s vanity (I’m judging because I don’t exactly get it) unless you’re doing some kind of scientific research, awareness raising or something which will have some other positive repercussions for society. I feel that if one has the drive to do big adventures, one is responsible to communicate something positive to a wider audience.
    I think you do great stuff, Al, by the way. I know you don’t need to hear that but this kind of blog post is very necessary. I’m inspired to write one now!

    Reply
  3. I read this with great interest, as someone who does extreme long distance running and cycling for fun, and as a part-time musician who constantly gets asked to play for nothing in the name of charity.

    My introduction to adventure also came through raising funds for charity – my uncle and aunt were diagnosed with cancer within a short space of time, and I decided I wanted to raise money for a charity that was supporting them and to get myself fit for when cancer inevitably came knocking for me. I had no idea what I was getting into!

    A 100km night cycle round London led to a triathlon (which almost finished me off!), then to a marathon to 2 cycles up Mont Ventoux and now to 7 ultramarathons (which will hopefully be 9 by July).

    I no longer raise money for charity in this way as I really feel I’d be doing all this anyway, it’s now just part of my lifestyle, which is much much healthier and happier as a result of a simple decision to set off on a charitable path.

    I do play for charity but very occasionally. Now these gigs have to be something that is for a friend or very close to my heart as I just get asked too often now and my instrument is an expensive one with many strings and costs a lot of money and faff to transport and maintain.
    (and I now refer to Fatboy Slim’s excellent 5 Fs for how he chooses whether to accept a gig – http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/fatboy-slim-the-superstar-dj-who-bounced-back-from-rehab-reveals-secret-of-the-five-fs-10251220.html).

    So how else, and who do I choose, to support? With recent world events I am giving this a lot of thought at the moment, but I am fortunate to work for an employer who encourages us to raise and support charities in work time as well as out of it.

    Charity doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of adventure, or music. but for me, it proved to be my way-in to a more adventurous lifestyle and I’ll always be grateful for that!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article.

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      What a cool answer – thank you!
      I’m not sure I’ve ever met a real life harpist!

      Reply
  4. Andy J Posted

    Random question (and not the point of your post), but do you know if your friends were equally as impacted by the trip you did together as 14 year olds? A trip that I did with my brother and Dad at that age definitely influenced me.

    Reply
  5. Great post Al.

    It’s interesting to hear your views on this. From my perspective you already have been doing a lot with the microadventures to promote environmentalism and sustainability whether intentional or not. The more people spend time outside in wilder places the more they appreciate them and therefore want to protect them. I am sure you will have turned a few people to be more sustainable whether you meant to or not.

    I am also a big believer that microadventures aka sleeping outside is a fundamental part of connecting with the natural world and understanding that once upon a time that was how humans lived. Pushing this concept to people will help them appreciate that living simply, and a little more connected to the natural world can lead to being happier. Again, I’m not sure if this has ever been your intention of it all but it’s definitely been a message I have taken from following along.

    Personally, I don’t see the answer of making positive change being raising more money. I see it as exactly what you have made happen with microadventures. Persuading people to take small, tiny steps. A few more steps down the line they are having bigger adventures/living much more responsibly.

    Perhaps using you’re powers to connect these dots and make it all a little more obvious for people could be a good use of your skills. I’d be stoked if none else would be 😉

    Keep up the good work, glad to see you’re back posting regularly.

    Reply
  6. You raised some interesting points here but your reflections are from a unique angle in that you are a high profile adventurer. I felt like your article started out with inspiration for others looking to raise money and ended quite critical: “if you do decide to link adventure to a cause think carefully about your motivations”. Regardless of motivation, we should absolutely be encouraging people to add a charity to their pursuits – even if it is for a self-indulgent activity that results in the person getting more sponsorship interest! Isn’t that better than the charity not getting anything at all? And really (without getting too deep) is there such a thing as a selfless act anyway – I certainly give to charity because it makes me feel good!

    I used to work in as a charity fundraiser and for a lot of charities, adventure/challenge events are the biggest income. It’s important to recognise this.

    Don’t get me wrong though, personally I am very critical of the industry and fundraising as a whole. In particular mixing adventure and charity the biggest concern, for me, is the lack of transparency involved. Ie, not be honest that 50% of your donation will pay for my trip, the rest goes to the charity. This is also the case for running (cycling, swimming, etc) events, although most don’t think about this. It costs the charity a huge amount of money to enter a charity place (not to mention print a T-shirt, provide on the day support, etc) and this is on the hope that the participant will raise enough to cover this cost plus a significant amount more for the charity.

    However, the charity sector would be at a loss without all these individuals with good intentions signing up to their next challenge, even if there are some big flaws. For the average person, organsing an event raising £10k + is not feasible (it’s all about contacts and confidence!), so those small amounts the ‘everyday person’ raises after weeks of effort pestering for donations and selling cakes, are not a great use of time (it’d be better for most people to work and give the money they earn to charity!) but ultimately make a big difference. I think we should encourage any form of charity fundraising, even if it’s not done particularly well…it’s got to start from somewhere!

    (Also most fundraisers return to do something again for the charity and often build up their ‘fundraising potential’…just as you did. It’s all about getting that initial hook in, however that may be!!)

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      Hi Bex,
      Thanks for your thoughts.
      Perhaps I should have made it more focus on ways/inspiration for people to get involved and raise money. And I certainly did not mean to detract people from supporting charities. I totally agree that “by any means / motives” is still good for the charity.

      How would you suggest I go about encouraging people to raise more money through their adventures? Would you like to write a blog post for my site about it?

      Al

      Reply
      • James Beecher Posted

        Excellent thought provoking reflections from both Alastair and Bex. I have often wondered if there was a way of linking both adventure and giving to a cause that is close to my heart, at the same time. Often, when I am away from my normal working life in a distant country or even when I am in my local area enjoying the natural surroundings, I wish that I could share certain moments with others. I feel grateful that I am able to do these activities and usually, they are on a shoe string budget. My idea is to send some of the money that I am able to save on these small adventures to those who are not able to share what I am living during those times. In this way, I am including individuals or a charitable organisation who support individuals, on my adventure, in a meaningful way.

        Reply
      • Hi Al

        I’d love to! I’ll have a think about ways to encourage people to combine adventure for the greater good. It’s something I think can be used as a great platform either for fundraising, raising awareness or research.

        I’ll drop you an email this week with a blog.

        Thanks 🙂
        Bex

        Reply
      • Alastair Posted

        You can read Bex’s post here – http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventure-good-2/

        Reply

 
 

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