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How to plan a charity challenge event

Increasingly, charities are wooing supporters with ever more exotic holiday fundraising challenges - from climbing Everest to trekking the Inca trail. Charity challenges can be a useful way for both small and larger charities to raise money in a more creative way.

So, what issues do you need to consider when deciding if an overseas adventure holiday challenge is a good way of raising money for your charity?


Consider the pros and cons

There’s no doubt that overseas challenges can have huge benefits for charities, but they can also be complex and time consuming.

Here are some of the key things you might like to consider:

  • publicity: overseas challenges are a great way of gaining public attention, particularly if a celebrity is involved.
  • long-term support: Charities testify that the intensity of the adventure holiday challenge experience, with its sense of shared achievement and real hardships overcome, often translates into long-term support.
  • sustained advance exposure: those participating in major overseas travel challenges are likely to be engaged in fundraising for many months before an event takes place. Charities therefore benefit greatly from sustained public exposure.
  • promoting your message and mission: for health charities such as the British Heart Foundation, overseas travel challenges are also a great way of reinforcing the lifestyle choices they aim to promote.

But it’s not all positive. It’s important to think about the following too:

  • economic climate: as a result of the economic downturn people are now focusing on their 'must do' experiences. Some charities have changed strategy, focusing on offering the overseas charity challenge 'big 3': Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, and the Great Wall of China. Another consequence is that fundraisers are finding it harder, and needing longer, to raise sponsorship. So it’s important to keep in touch with participants to help them if they need extra inspiration or creative fundraising ideas.
  • the charity/challenge balance: it’s important not to fall into the trap of offering multiple exotic events. It’s not 'appropriate' for charities to set themselves up as travel agents: fewer, more targeted events send out a better signal all round.

Pick a tour operator

The number of companies specialising in overseas charity challenges is growing, and the tour operator you choose will play a crucial role in ensuring your success. In theory, operators handle the logistics of arranging the adventure holiday travel challenge, while charities are responsible for the promotion and collection of money.

In practice, it’s rarely clear cut, and tour operators usually provide extensive advice and support on such issues as marketing, legal considerations and planning. The Ultimate Travel Company’s recommends starting to plan any overseas challenge event 12-14 months in advance.

The Institute of Fundraising recommends investigating both the tour operator and their subcontractors thoroughly.

Key things to think about include:

  • safety records and ethical policy. You should cross-check with any relevant industry bodies
  • your own rights as a charity if you are unable to proceed with your planned challenge
  • what kind of deal the operator is offering participants. For example, are they being asked to sign unreasonable liability waivers?

Realistically calculate how much you can raise

It's important always to keep the Charity Commission’s guidelines in mind. Any challenge should raise 50%, and ideally, 60% more than the cost of administrating and operating the challenge.

The following case study from Motor Neurone Disease Association might help you in planning: A recent MND Association Machu Picchu trek cost each participant £2,900. The funds raised by the 38 participants totalled £191,000. £75,000 of this was spent on operating and administrative costs, including a payment of £67,000 to the tour operators, resulting in a final total of £116,000 net being raised for the charity.


Pick a charity challenge

Think carefully about your options: while a Peruvian pony trek might grab attention, for some charities a European bike ride is more feasible.

Key issues to think about include:

  • publicity: how your event will attract publicity or media coverage - including potential criticism.
  • other charities’ activities: the Institute of Fundraising recommend researching other charities’ activities to avoid conflicts and over-saturation (Everest can only accommodate so many sponsored mountaineers!).
  • location: consider likely hazards – natural and human – and consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if necessary. Publicity can also be harder to come by if the location you choose for your event is obscure.
  • your supporters: what are your current donors interested in? Profiling current donors in order to identify areas of interest is essential, and it’s important to be guided by their likely capabilities. An Everest challenge isn’t ideal if most of your supporters are in their seventies!
  • bespoke or open? Tour operators typically offer 'bespoke' challenges (exclusive to the charity concerned) and 'open' challenges. Open challenges are conceived and planned by tour operators themselves, and participants then sign up to raise money for whatever cause they choose. Bespoke challenges require more commitment and therefore aren’t always an option for smaller organisations. However, the benefits of bespoke events are considerable: exclusive branding, and a greater team spirit (due to the fact of a uniting common cause), which is more likely to translate into long-term support. 

Brush up on legal issues and guidelines

As the Institute of Fundraising points out, the legal issues surrounding overseas charity challenges are extremely complex, and charities must seek independent legal advice. You can contact the Charity Law Association for more information.

The institute’s own charity challenges events code of fundraising practice is essential reading for anyone wishing to set up a challenge event. It offers a source of best practice guidance, but should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. The charity challenges events code must be read in conjunction with the code of fundraising practice as a whole.


Consider doing your own challenge

If you're not here to set up a scheme for your charity but you've been inspired to do your own charity challenge, try visiting Action for Charity. They can register you for the following challenges:

  • Big cycle challenge in Cuba
  • Cycle Kenya
  • 3 peaks hike and bike in Yorkshire
  • London to Paris bike ride

Register for a challenge with Action for Charity*

Further information

Institute of Fundraising

Charity Law Association

Classic Tours

Charity Challenge



Page last edited Aug 08, 2019 History

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