Why a Difficult Challenge Can Make Fundraising Easier

Imagine this scenario: you want to make a charitable donation, and you obviously want it to make an impact. You have the option of attending a gala or trekking the Mount Everest Base Camp. Which do you choose? Increasingly, people are opting out of black tie and into… hiking boots. 

Now, Everest may be an extreme example, but the point is that when people face a difficult challenge – when they put their blood, sweat, and tears into an event… literally, in some cases! – they derive greater value from it. They want it to be hard, and peer-to-peer (aka P2P) fundraising events can deliver just that.

The Martyrdom Effect

Pain is usually a deterrent; we don’t touch hot stoves because it hurts. But studies prove that “the willingness to contribute to a charitable or collective cause increases when the contribution process is expected to be painful and effortful rather than easy and enjoyable.” Researchers call it the “Martyrdom Effect.” We call it a great opportunity for your organization! 

What’s the “why” behind the Martyrdom Effect, though? If we won’t touch a hot stove, why do we willingly deprive ourselves of oxygen in the Himalayas – and pay for the privilege? Because we derive more meaning and value from hard-earned accomplishments than we do from easy wins. This is also why we value the car or the house we scrimped and saved to buy over one that’s handed to us; it’s more meaningful, and satisfying, because we worked hard for it.

P2P fundraising events that include a difficult activity can be incredibly successful; we want to push ourselves; we want to struggle; and, ultimately, we want to conquer. It helps us find meaning.

What Is “Hard”?

Difficult means different things for different people. In the world of “extreme fundraising,” for example, difficult is doing the Everest Base Camp trek or jumping out of a plane. But for others, a 2K walk may be very challenging. For some, hopping on a bike is Everest. 

“Hard” is relative; it’s not about finding the hardest activity out there. The key is to find an activity or event that engages your target supporters. What do they find difficult? What challenges do they want to overcome? What kind of activity will connect them with the struggles of those your charity serves? That’s the kind of “hard” activity that you ought to look for. 

Why Are P2P Fundraising Events So Appealing?

P2P fundraising events that include a level of difficulty for participants tend to be so successful for charities because they tap into this Martyrdom Effect. They also appeal to people because:

  • They’re Competitive. Whether you gamify the fundraising experience or provide a competitive team or individual activity, you drive participation and engagement. Competition pushes people to push themselves harder. Let’s raise the stakes a little! 
  • There’s a Sense of Team. If competition is important, so is camaraderie. Challenging activities create a “we’re in this together” mentality. It builds community and fosters a sense of belonging – both of which you can leverage to engage donors and boost results.
  • They’re Empathetic. The Coldest Night of the Year, Canada’s national walk for the hungry, hurting, and homeless, asks participants to walk a mile (actually 2, 5, or 10k) in the shoes of a homeless person. Held annually in late February, they trudge through the cold, the snow, the ice, and the dark. And they begin to identify with the people who trudge through the cold, the snow, the ice, and the dark every day. 

John Fenton is the single largest individual fundraiser for this event, in a single year receiving almost $50,000 in donations. What is even more remarkable is that Mr. Fenton is in his 80s. On his most recent CNOY Walk, he used two walking sticks to aid him… but he kept going. This was hard. This was difficult. Donating money doesn’t cost us anything but money; doing something challenging is valuable to us for many reasons, including the empathy we can gain through events like this.

  • They Make the Ask Easier. Asking for donations can sometimes range from feeling mildly awkward to extremely awkward, depending on the situation. But when people put themselves out there and demonstrate their willingness to take a risk and tackle a tough challenge, it rationalizes the ask. It makes it much easier for your community of stakeholders to ask their friends and family to give. They feel like they’re earning their donations (and they are!).
  • They’re Fun, Novel -– and Provide the Opportunity for Bragging Rights! Ben Southall is something of a celebrity in Australia. He won the 2009 Best Job In the World Competition as caretaker for the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Ben now leads Best Life Adventures (as you may have guessed, he’s the brains behind the Base Camp fundraising idea). He hits the nail right on the head here: 

People want to support good causes. It is just something which seems to be hardwired into most of us. But at the same time, we are also experiencing the new phenomena of donor fatigue…

It’s not that the dollars and goodwill are not there. It’s just the competition for them is so fierce it is becoming harder for charities and causes to be heard above the clamour of those wanting those dollars and goodwill.

P2P fundraising events that provide a challenge are fun; there’s a sense of novelty to repelling down the side of a building or doing a sponsored bungee jump that can wipe away donor fatigue.

Completing these tasks also gives participants a bit of social cache. They were the ones willing to strap on a harness and climb down a 20 story building. In doing so, they distinguish themselves from others. At the same time, they prove something to themselves. I can do this. I DID this. And I helped people.

Remember, your event doesn’t have to be extreme in order to be effective; but incorporating difficult activities can be just the wakeup your donors (and their networks!) need to pull out their wallets. P2P fundraising events are not just great fundraisers by accident; they tap into the core components of human nature and allow people to find meaning in giving to your charity.

What Do You Think?

Could this all be part of your fundraising strategy? What kinds of activities would work well for your cause and your community? What is “hard” in the context of your supporters?