Want to push yourself out of your comfort zone, work with a team and raise loads of money for charity? Try a sponsored challenge...

Exhilarating, nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring. A few words which might describe the kind of exciting charitable sponsored challenge many will be setting themselves this year. Whether it’s throwing yourself out of a speeding plane at 10,000 feet; trekking in a foreign land until your toes bleed and you long for respite; or struggling to cover thousands of miles in a beaten up old car, held together with string and the prayers of your passengers, doing crazy stunts in the name of needy causes is all the rage.

You may already know that because you’ll undoubtedly have been asked to give towards someone’s sponsored challenge. You’ve probably also heard about high profile celeb sponsored challenges – like singer and X Factor judge Cheryl Cole and Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles who climbed Kilimanjaro to raise money for Comic Relief last year. Or, maybe you’ve done a challenge yourself. So…why do something so daring, when you could just give money?

Because it’s an experience you may never otherwise have the chance to do, as well a chance to help someone in difficulty. It’s an opportunity to explore the unknown, test yourself to the limits, or work so closely with others (some you’ve never met before) that you’ll become as close as family through the experience. Achieving your challenge is an accomplishment you’ll not forget, and it could be a memorable way of celebrating a benchmark in your life, your 16th, 18th or 80th, or even, a honeymoon.

Whatever your reason, charities and organisations have been championing this fundraising dream for years. What could be a better way of raising money, than by having your supporters do something a bit outlandish but such fun? So let’s hear from some of the brave souls who have attempted great deeds in the name of human kindliness.

Rather Him(alayas) than me!

Adventurous would-be explorer Hugh Dibbens, 69, left England to trek the foothills of the magnificent Indian Himalayas in April last year. Hugh, from Chelmsford, along with another Church Mission Society (CMS) supporter, Anette Love, flew from England to join their trekking team in Dharamsala in northern India. They had been warned that the trek would be ‘severely challenging’ with glaciers to traverse, as well as mountain terrain. But this didn’t stop them, because for Hugh, this was also to be a momentous way of celebrating his 70th birthday.

Their first challenge: a 12-hour flight, 14-hour train journey and a five-hour bumpy jeep ride to the starting point. Despite the distance, the trip was well-planned and the team included, as well as Hugh and the other fundraisers, a trekker-tour leader, a doctor, three local guides, a chef and his assistant, plus a number of other locals. So the trek began. Eight hours of challenging mountain terrain each day, with four daily prayer breaks for Hugh. But despite the hard going, nothing could beat this as an ‘alternative’ jaunt to celebrate his years.

‘Since we were at the geographical intersection of India, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nepal, I felt a strange connectedness to these great struggling peoples, which fired my prayer sessions,’ he says. ‘The spiritual context of the mountains and strenuous trekking gave all of us a close bond, which overflowed into many deeply personal conversations.’

On their long journey, Hugh witnessed breathtaking sweeping green valleys and the snow-capped mountain ranges of Matrahorn, Moon Peak and the Camel Peaks.

Ruth Biddulph of CMS helps challengers promote their events. ‘Anyone can do a sponsored challenge as there are so many opportunities available, from a gentle ramble along Hadrian’s Wall to tackling the more strenuous Mount Kilimanjaro,’ she says. Ruth obviously does her job very well, having managed to persuade teammates that an opportunity to raise funds existed in a freefall sky dive… read on!

The sky’s the limit

The team of (very brave) staff from CMS would never be the same again. After plummeting through the air, at 120mph for 10,000 feet, wind screaming past their ears and the sight of the earth rushing towards them, who could ever recover? The seven-strong contingent, including CMS staff and three supporters, leapt from the comfortable, safe plane on a clear and crisp October day at Hinton Airfield near Oxford. The aim of the group challenge was to raise around £6,000 from friends and family to support the worldwide missionary work of the charity. Yes, they had tandem instructors ensuring parachutes opened correctly and in good time, but still a feat? I think so!

‘We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience,’ says Stephen Burgess, CMS transcultural manager for Africa. ‘Exiting the plane was amazing – just seeing the earth below, rushing up towards me...!’ Stephen’s daughter Louise also jumped. ‘It was beautiful,’ she says. ‘We parachuted down through a perfectly round rainbow.’

Sand? Pah! We’ve got a Saab

Most of us enjoy a drive through the countryside, but a set of lads from London took this idea to the next level as part of their sponsored charity challenge. Team ‘Sanddodgers’, Gareth Wallace, of the Evangelical Alliance, Jonathan Farley, a mechanical engineering student (this would come in handy), and Peter Laurie, a systems engineer, drove 4,000 miles on the Plymouth to Banjul Trans-Saharan Challenge in January.

But not in a nice, air-conditioned four by four. They made the trip in a 1978 Saab rust bucket, which had been left fallow in a field for four years before the boys bought it on eBay. On Boxing Day, the lads finished up their turkey sarnies and hit the road to North Africa to support Christian charity Tearfund and Macmillan Cancer Support.

As you can imagine, this was not just a drive in the country. The roads down North Africa’s western coast to the Gambian capital Banjul are some of the most difficult in the world. And the boys did it in little more than a rusty tin can with wheels.

As part of the challenge, in which 200 other teams took part, only cars worth £100 or less could be driven, and no more than £15 could be spent on pre-rally preps. Why would anyone do such a thing?

Gareth explains: ‘The trip really was the challenge of a lifetime. We crossed some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, with no experience, in a clapped out car, in a bid to raise as much money for charity as possible.’

Gareth says he was partly inspired to do something daring by ex-Army, TV-explorer and Christian, Bear Grylls. ‘I heard Bear speak at a prayer breakfast some years ago,’ he says. ‘He was such a motivational speaker, an incredible athlete and an amazing Christian witness. We realised we had to come up with a slightly different way of achieving what our hero Bear has, preferably without the bodily pain and superhuman levels of exercise!’

Brilliantly, Team Sanddodgers raised £7,000 on their motor trek.

Over to you

Booking a challenge for yourself can be as a simple as having the bright idea, going online to the charity of your choice and booking through their website. But what about if you want to organise a larger scale challenge event to raise money as a team? Read on for practical hints and ideas. Getting started According to Trailblazers, a Christian charity specialising in sponsored challenges since the 90s, the first thing to do is decide what you want to do. Think about who or what you want to raise money for, and a charity which supports this. You may find that the charity runs its own group challenge programmes that you can join. Or, you can choose by type of challenge. For instance, if your heart is set on a canoe up the Nile but you’re undecided about who you want to raise money for, find out who runs sponsored challenges like this first and go from there. Once you’ve got a few ideas, get your people to talk to people who’ve done the challenge – this can really help give you all an idea of the day-to-day difficulties you might face. Don’t forget to talk to challenge-providers before you start planning; prepare a list of questions with your group and see if your chosen challenge-provider can answer them all!

Building your team

As with all team games, you need to have a leader with a vision for the trip who can inspire and motivate others. But you also need someone with organisational ability as the trip will need a lot of planning! Everyone needs to be clear about what is expected of them, how fit they need to be, and individual fundraising targets. Once they’re signed up, give them something like a t-shirt or a wristband to help them feel part of the team. Work with your team to find fresh ways to present updates to the church, so that you’ve a wide backing of prayer and practical help, as well as donations.

Managing the challenge

After signing up, you need to start planning straight away: experts in the field advise that you don’t put this bit off. Work up a schedule of what needs to be done before, during and after the trip. Assign roles to your team members. Make a checklist and prioritise what needs to be booked in sooner rather than later, for instance, health jabs (depending on your destination), personal fitness plans (absolutely essential if you’re intending to climb Kilimanjaro, advisable for most other physical activities too), ordering your equipment for the event, and checking that you have all the correct paperwork (including next of kin contact info, international health cards and the like) for each team member. Let the local newspapers and radio know before and after the event, so you get some extra coverage for your cause in the community. Make sure you check out insurance – is your event covered under your church’s existing insurance or do you need extra? If the event is a physical challenge, such as blowing up 1,000 balloons in 30 minutes, ask the people involved to take out personal accident insurance and ask for some St John’s Ambulance support.

Raising sponsorship money

For some organised events, you’ll need to pay for the activity yourself before starting to raise funds for charity. Other operators subsidise the cost of the event with funds raised. Decide beforehand how much of a percentage of donated funds you are happy to spend on the activity itself. As the whole point of the sponsored challenge is to raise cash, it’s a good idea to set yourself and your team a target from the beginning. Know how much you want to raise (and why) and tell people. When people see you’re committed and confident, it will inspire them and make it a joy for them to give. The organisation putting on your trip may have some useful fundraising tools.

Trailblazer runs briefing days for its challenges, with a fundraising workshop as well as other essential must-know info. Charity Challenge and the Church Mission Society also have brilliant fundraising ideas on their websites. Websites such as JustGiving.com are generally very simple to use for the fundraiser and the giver, and importantly, they provide Gift Aided giving. Facebook is another useful tool in sharing the info and getting people involved – create a group and post up some funny training videos and pics to engage potential givers in your friendship circles.

Health and safety check

This is a big issue to get right, especially if you are a large group. Charity Challenge has a comprehensive list of health musthaves, which includes arranging a dental check-up before you go; getting vaccinations; buying first aid kits (tailored to your destination), water purifiers, sun protection, allergy medication, medication for any asthma sufferers/diabetics in your team, medicine to stave off regional health risks, such as malaria; and necessities for general hygiene on-the-go.

Over to you

Still stuck for ideas? Try one of these...

• The Kilimanjaro summit is perhaps one of the most revered of climb challenges at nearly 6,000m.

• An exploration through the jungle in Thailand will give you the chance to try a mix of activities, including kayaking and trekking.

• A 600-mile cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats is a good fitness and endurance challenge.

• For challenging mountain climbs, the Inca trail will take you through the Andes to the ruins of Inca site Machu Picchu in Peru.

• A sponsored mini-triathlon around the parks of your neighbourhood is a great challenge to set yourself, and is low on air miles!

QA interview:

Who? Claire Lanham

What? Ben Nevis group climb

For? Bethany Children’s Trust (BCT)

Funds raised? £26,500

How did you decide which challenge to do?

The Ben Nevis climb seemed an accessible, ‘do-able’ challenge. It only required a weekend, wasn’t expensive to participate in, and travel, being in the UK, was easy to arrange.

How many were in your team?

Eighteen, aged between 20 and 50-years-old, two BCT staff, two trustees, long-term supporters, new supporters and friends of supporters who had never heard of BCT before. Most of us hadn’t done much mountain climbing before.

How long did the whole event take to organise?

We started planning one year before the event. We implemented a good recruitment strategy, and gave participants a good amount of time to raise funds and get fit.

Where did you go for advice about planning the trip?

We used Trailblazers, as they were managing the event. We ran an orientation day for participants ourselves, with some information about BCT and what money raised would achieve, to envision participants in their fundraising.

Was there a fundraising technique you found really effective?

Some people did dinner parties and asked for donations; a hairdresser did a day of haircuts with all proceeds going to her sponsorship; others set up online donation pages; some ran a bread and soup lunch after Sunday service with donations towards the trip; another asked for sponsorship instead of gifts for her 25th wedding anniversary party a few months before. Nearly everyone raised their target of £1,000, and many people far exceeded this.

What about the costs involved?

We were confident we would at least cover our financial outlay to run the event. Initially, we only reserved 10 places; those got booked up quickly, so we upped our group size.

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone/ group thinking about doing a sponsored challenge?

Start with something like a UK-based challenge initially. Don’t be overly ambitious. Use an organisation, such as Trailblazers, which gives professional support. Make an effort to be in touch personally with everyone in the group all the way through.

Find out more:


trailblazers.org charitychallenge.com cms-uk.org bethanychildrenstrust.org tearfund.org opendoors.org