The Metropolitan policeman who spent a week crawling the London Marathon wearing a gorilla costume captured my imagination and my admiration. When he crossed the finish line and beat his chest, I silently cheered.
Tom Harrison, who goes by ‘Mr Gorilla’, swapped between crawling on his hands and knees and on his hands and feet to save his blistered knees. He raised some $50,000 for the Gorilla Organisation, which protects gorillas. It can’t have been fun. He earned every penny.
I rarely feel that way about people who ask me to sponsor them for runs, walks, hikes, cycle races, and climbs. Why should I contribute to a charity not of my choosing so people can do something that they enjoy, or want to be incentivised to do?
Why should I give so they can achieve an ambition, or get super fit? Why should I give because someone has grown a moustache?
It seems churlish to object to charity sponsorship, but maybe it’s gone too far. Spare me the guilt trip.
I do sometimes make exceptions to help someone achieve a personal aim. I once sponsored an obese friend desperate to lose weight for his health. It didn’t work but, not wanting to upset him, most sponsors gave to his charity anyway.
Believing in the importance of children reading books, I’d sponsor a school readathon. And there might be some politicians I despise so much that I’d pay for them to sit in a bath of cold beans. For a long time.
But mostly when people ask me to sponsor them I refuse, and I’m left feeling mean.
I get it that people may be raising money for a charity dear to their hearts, and that sponsorship enables them to give far more cash than they could otherwise afford. I know that taking part in a charity event can be cathartic for those who have lost loved ones to dreadful diseases and want their loss to have meaning.
Charity events are great at publicising a cause. And if someone is testing their mettle they might as well get some cash for charity at the same time. But often I’d rather give to a charity of my choice. Most of us don’t have bottomless purses. If we give to one cause, another loses.
Just give a few quid then, people say. But who wants to look stingy, especially when others have given much more?
Recently a compassionate friend surprised me by declaring she’d ‘had it’ with a colleague accosting her to sponsor him on countless runs, since he was wealthy enough to simply write a cheque. She also suspects him of attention seeking. There was the Great Manchester Run, the Great North Run, The Great South Run, and even the Santa Run. She picks up a phone pretending to make a call as he approaches.
Mind you, her patience is pretty much spent since she works in a large office and regularly has people waving sponsorship forms in her face. My friend, by the way, gives a lot, often, and quietly.
I like the idea of sponsoring ourselves to give up something we love, whether it be chocolate or scotch, then donating the money saved. And of course taxpayers can do so via Gift Aid so their chosen charity can claw back tax from HM Revenue & Customs – boosting donations by at least 25 per cent.
Taxpayers can also do payroll giving which in 2015/16 provided UK charities with £130 million.
It might seem a clinical way of donating, but steady, regular gifts enable your chosen charity to plan. Money is taken before tax, so each pound given only costs basic taxpayers 80p. Some employers even match donations. If your employers don’t have a scheme, urge them to set one up. Regular giving is also the perfect excuse to say no to sponsorship pesterers. ‘Sorry, the money I budget for charity goes every month to …’ And don’t forget that leaving a legacy to a charity can cut inheritance tax.
Sensible friends doing sponsored activities don’t approach you directly. They simply make a general announcement, and maybe send out a group email or post on Facebook. It’s an approach I deeply respect, which inclines me to give.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for money – as long as you don’t nag.
A word to the wise. I’d rather give my cash to people doing unpleasant stuff. How about a sponsored dog mess pickup? I’d happily give money for the removal of blue bags that obscenely decorate our country’s hedgerows.
Lynne Bateson is a freelance writer and journalist. She was a national newspaper financial editor and consumer columnist.