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By David Carroll on 3 August 2011
Traditionally in a business, the role of team sculptor and creator of office cohesion has generally been played by human resources departments. Failing this, the task falls to specialist companies run by super-fit and easily-excitable people who like nothing more than to coerce others into undertaking all manner of bizarre sports and activities in the name of team building.
As well as creating a workplace bond, companies today are also keen to be seen as positive contributors to the community. A corporate charity challenge allows them to do both.
It’s a simple idea – a group of colleagues sign up for a team-building physical challenge and use the trip to raise serious money for a not-for-profit organisation of their company’s choice. The project usually involves an overseas journey or a one off experience, from running the New York Marathon to walking the Great Wall of China.
When it’s done well, everyone in the company gets behind the participants and morale is raised because people feel proud of their employer. Plus the company can identify future leaders, reward top performers and benefit from some positive public relations.
In the UK such challenges have been popular for years and large charities often work directly with companies to organise the trips themselves in-house. In Australia, however, charity organisations are smaller and lack the resources to design and organise major trips.
Back in 2004 Justine Curtis was general manager of a fundraising agency employing 250 people around Australia who collected on the street for organisations such as Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Cancer Council, for which it raised $20 million in three years.
As part of a management training course she was asked to come up with an exciting goal that could be achieved within 12 weeks.
“I’d been to Africa before and hadn’t had the balls to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and I’d left feeling unfulfilled,” Curtis said. “I also had a friend who’d started a charity supporting orphans in Zimbabwe, so I created a goal of reaching Kilimanjaro and raising $30,000, which would fund travel to Africa for me and two friends and fund a water pump for the orphanage.
“We raised the money and climbed to the top in three days. It was a life-changing experience because it gave me a sense of the power we have to create something in our mind, put it in place and make a difference.”
Curtis decided to start Sydney-based Inspired Adventures the same year. Since then the company has grown quickly and in the next 12 months it will take up to 700 people on 45 separate adventures.
In order to design, manage and lead customised experiences combining a physical component with a hands-on activity (usually related to the charity’s focus) Inspired charges a $10,000 upfront fee, which is generally paid for by the corporation’s charity of choice.
Between 10 and 20 employees take part in the trip, and before departure they throw themselves into a variety of fundraising activities, with Inspired helping develop individual’s targets and strategies.
Usually the tougher the physical challenge the higher the fundraising target.
“Marathon runners tend to raise more because people get that it’s a huge challenge, it’s tangible and it requires enormous dedication and commitment”, said Curtis.
Inspired also works with the company to leverage public relations opportunities and it promotes the corporate challenges through its newsletter, which now has around 10,000 subscribers.
Business development manager Kyle Taylor claims that once participants have covered their travel costs, they raise an average of $4700 each for the not-for-profit organisation. That currently translates to an average return of $63,000 for a charity, but the figure is climbing steadily.
“Five years ago if we raised $35,000 it was fantastic, but in the last six months it has exploded and we have been continually exceeding $100,000. At the moment we are working on a New York Marathon challenge involving five charities and 50 runners. It will raise $600,000 by the time it leaves in November.”
Next financial year the company will raise about $3 million for not-for-profit organisations, double the $1.5 million it raised in the last financial year.
Inspired works with a wide variety of charities – from Kids Helpline to Alzheimer’s Australia – and it will work with just about any company on a corporate challenge. Most of its work, however, is with larger organisations where employees can make use of greater resources and networks to reach their fundraising targets.
“Corporate Australia is still behind those in the UK, but it is starting to gain a sense of what can be achieved by having staff or clients sign up for the trip of a lifetime,” said Curtis.
“These are priceless journeys that people who don’t normally work together can share. They also require dedication for at least a year, so they are good for staff retention, and people will always associate the experience with the organisation.”