Alastair Humphreys: On Differentiation

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Alastair Humphreys is an adventurer, blogger, author, and motivational speaker. His first adventure was a four-year cycle around the world that took him to 60 countries in 5 continents. He logged over 46,000 miles. This self-financed bike expedition raised donations that went directly to Hope and Homes for Children. Hope and Homes for Children is a charity dedicated to providing a family and a future for young victims of war and disaster. It has provided family homes for thousands of children in 13 countries around the world. He followed up his round the world trip with a walk across India, the Marathon des Sables, and a row across the Atlantic. In 2012, Alastair was named as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his pioneering work on the concept of microadventures. With this initiative, he is on a quest to liberate the idea of adventure as an “elite” activity. His new book on Microadventures launched this week.

I had the opportunity to catch up with this adventurer-blogger-author-speaker before he took off to the Isle of Skye on a microadventure. I wanted to find out more about how he went from struggling to raise awareness and money for his cause in 2006 to achieving fundraising success “often without pedalling an inch”. Alastair recalled his regrets, touched on how he changed things by developing a strong profile, reminded me about the value of being different —and gave some pretty great advice: Just get going! —Tracy

In 2006 you were unsatisfied with your fundraising for Hope and Homes for Children. What happened to change your opinion of your efforts?

I’m afraid that my answer is perhaps not very encouraging for people starting out in fundraising, except perhaps to say that the only way to build your fundraising ‘power’ is to begin. Just get going! I was disappointed that I didn’t raise much money (I think about £15k) from cycling round the world for 4 years. Since then I have raised many times that amount for the charity, often without pedalling an inch! I’ve launched a lecture series called ‘Night of Adventure’ which has done well, but mostly my fundraising impact has increased simply as my online presence and profile has grown. This is not new knowledge: the more people who know about you, the more you will raise. It’s as simple as that. TV celebrities raise £1million easily, normal people raise £15k in 4 years of cycling. So the lesson is that publicity is key.

In those years, what did you learn about yourself, your adventures and fundraising in general that made the greatest difference to your ability to fundraise for your organization?

People are jaded by Justgiving. “Please sponsor me to run a marathon” no longer has much clout for so many people do that these days. You need to differentiate: how is your challenge difficult? Why is it hard to you? Why is it interesting to me?
I received one of those round robin emails recently – “please sponsor me to cycle to France (or something – I don’t even remember the trip) because my baby son has had two heart operations and I want to thank the hospital who has helped him”. I donated instantly because of that element of interest, differentiation and -frankly- reason for me to care.

When did you realize you were becoming a more effective fundraiser? What happened?

Sadly I don’t have a good answer here. It has just been a gradual growth as my online profile has gradually grown. I’d encourage anyone attempting to fundraise to put a real effort into getting publicity for their challenge: you absolutely have to be able to reach out beyond your circle of friends and colleagues. You need to not recognise all the names on your JustGiving donation list.

What are your greatest fundraising challenges today?

Overcoming apathy (so many people running marathons) and lack of time (so many worthy causes running events). The challenge is to be different, and to request people’s attention and money infrequently but meaningfully.


How To Overcome Apathy

What’s the greatest obstacle to getting support for a worthy cause according to adventure fundraiser Alastair Humphreys?

Overcoming apathy (so many people running marathons) and lack of time (so many worthy causes running events). The challenge is to be different, and to request people’s attention and money infrequently but meaningfully.

Michael Nilsen, Vice President, Public Affairs of the Association of Fundraising Professionals has some advice that might help you with this challenge.

What is the best way to overcome the apathy of the public who are approached by so many people and organizations promoting runs, marathons, challenges and adventures?

An important part of fundraising and charity is that people give to people. They might not ordinarily give to your cause, but if someone they know asks them to support or participate, they are quite likely to. So, it’s critical that your cause uses its major supporters and their contacts as much as possible.

An innovative or creative event can help too. There are so many adventure/athletic events now, so it’s helpful to be able to stand out in some way. This can be important but it pales compared to the first factor—connecting.

How can we move past simple differentiation and make an adventure and/or campaign remarkable?

It goes back to the first answer. It’s all about connection. Because at some point, the adventure is going to be get dwarfed or forgotten by the next fad or craze. Or someone’s interest changes. But a connection with a cause can remain a long time.

So we have to focus on stories, on impact—why the charity and cause exists and what change do you bring about change in the community.

In your opinion, what are the common elements of a remarkable campaign?

They’re all about the donor. We say that effective and ethical fundraising is donor-centered—it has to be about the donor. Engaging the donor. Inspiring the donor. Making them feel like they are part of something. That they’re doing more than just making a gift—they’re making a difference. It’s about communicating with them, from beginning to the end, and making them feel part of the movement and cause.

I would also add that dividing the campaign into distinct achievable elements is also important. Particular for programs when you’re training or raising funds, divide the major goal into sub-goals. Congratulate participants on key accomplishments throughout the process. Positive feedback and encouragement is also critical.

Do you have any tips on creating campaigns that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the others are doing?

With so many of these kinds of adventures happening now, don’t be afraid to try something new. But always do so with the donor in mind. You may think you know what’s best for your donors and supporters, but we always can stand a good check. Talk with your strongest supporters and see what they think. They can be your best minds and provide good perspective.


Rough Road Photo credit: carolina terp via photopin cc