Sunday June 04, 2017

Think twice before starting your own cross-Canada fundraiser

Terry Fox inspired the entire country when he attempted a cross-country trek to raise money for cancer research in 1980, but Tristin Hopper says efforts to emulate Fox's efforts often don't raise the money or awareness the participants had hoped for.

Terry Fox inspired the entire country when he attempted a cross-country trek to raise money for cancer research in 1980, but Tristin Hopper says efforts to emulate Fox's efforts often don't raise the money or awareness the participants had hoped for. (Canadian Press)

Listen 8:44

Think of how many times you've seen, heard, or read about the following:

Person (runs /bikes /walks /does another activity) across Canada to raise money and awareness about some charitable issue.

Rick Hansen 1986

Rick Hansen on the Great Wall of China in 1986. The Canadian wheelchair athlete's Man In Motion World Tour raised funds and awareness hoping to create a world without barriers for people with disabilities. (Neal Ulevich/The Associated Press)

For Canadians, that idea often traces back to either Terry Fox or Rick Hansen. The two men are legends for their fundraising treks across the country.

And in Tristin Hopper's view — that's enough. No one else needs to try and follow in their tracks

"The mere act of doing that is not in itself going to generate donations," says Hopper.

"If you're going to run across Canada, you need a support van, someone following behind you, you need a bunch of granola bars, you're going to need emergency accommodations. It's quite an undertaking to do.  And then you've got to factor in opportunity costs!" - Tristin Hopper

In fact, Hopper argues there are better ways to fundraise for your favourite charity.

If the only goal is to raise money, it's probably more efficient and lucrative to get an entry-level construction job and donate the money to charity, Hopper says.

Though he says he often hears that raising awareness is a factor in these fundraising journeys, Hopper questions how effective that strategy is and how much awareness is needed for issues like cancer.

"Usually, if you're not aware of breast cancer, you're probably not going to be suddenly be aware of it because you drove past someone who was cycling for it." - Tristin Hopper

Having organized charity events himself, Hopper is sympathetic to the people who embark upon these journeys, conceding the efforts are typically genuine and heartfelt.

But he suggests people who are interested in taking a cross-country trip to raise money for a charitable cause should stop and first think critically about their motivation and their options.

"You have to sit down and have a very uncomfortable conversation with yourself as to 'why am I doing this?' And if you're doing it just to keep yourself busy after the death of a family member then there might be other ways to do this without getting a whole support network of people, getting their hopes up, and approaching charities into a venture that will not have financial gain." - Tristin Hopper

Hopper says those who could successfully raise money on these types of cross-continental fundraising trips are those who have "rich friends" or a large network of churches and organizations supporting.

"If Don Cherry drops everything to cycle across Canada for the Kidney Foundation I think it's conceivable he could make at least a million dollars." - Tristin Hopper

However he won't totally discourage the average person from doing a cross-country trip — as long as they are not fundraising to pay for the trip itself.

"Where this gets really bad is where someone is on GoFundMe and says, 'I need $20,000 to run across Canada, but don't worry, once I get on the road I'll be raking in millions of dollars for charity,' and then when the runs ends they've raised $10,000. 

"The best way to do one of these fundraisers is something you're going to do anyway, but then just tack a charitable element onto it. So just do it as something you were going to do anyway, and then tell people, 'Hey, I'm doing this thing, would you mind kicking in some money for this particular cause."