Overseas Treks: A Guide for Small Charities

Sara Thomas | 19 February 2013

Being a small charity (and this, our first bespoke challenge) the learning curve was steep. The rewards of such a venture - both financial and otherwise - have massive potential, but it’s not easy. For all of you fundraisers thinking about overseas treks & charity challenges, here’s what I learned.

Four months ago I got back from Peru.  I’m tremendously proud to have recruited, supported and accompanied a group of 16 fundraisers trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to fight Motor Neurone Disease.  It was the first time that we at MND Scotland had ever done a bespoke trip, it was nearly 2 years in the making, and has (so far) raised £56,635.09 (net, excl Gift Aid).

MND Scotland group photo

Recruitment will take longer than you think

25-30 people?  No problem, I thought, back at the beginning of 2011.  Only, yeah, recession.  And double-dip recession.  And even if that hadn’t been the case, people took much more convincing than I’d thought.  We did two or three different hard copy direct mailings (to our existing database), as well as multiple online pushes.  We didn’t do any sort of advertising to the general public as we’ve found that this generally doesn’t work well for us, but if you were a more well-known cause it may do.  Although be warned, it will push up your costs unless you can get a good deal with outdoor advertisers, for example.

Be clear about costs.

In fact, be very clear about costs.  How much of the minimum sponsorship goes to the charity?  And why should people pay for you to have a holiday?  That last one’s a personal bugbear, but don’t get mad, get smart about explaining why raising money costs money.  Your trekkers will need to be able to take that information out to their sponsors.

Focus on the total you hope to raise (for 25 people we wanted £50k net) – supporters got really excited about that.  And focussing on the “challenge” aspect helped to combat the accusations of holiday-fishing.  As a side note, I do believe that the charity rep should consider fundraising, at least to the cost of flights – even though you’re working, the experience of fundraising with your fundraisers is valuable.

Info Days are Awesome

Not only did info days in advance of the event work as a fantastic recruitment device, it allowed our group to get to know one another before meeting at the airport.  This bonding experience was incredibly valuable.

Set a clear timetable, make a spreadsheet

Things will get confused.  When was I sending the second information pack?  How long should I leave for people to get in touch with me?  How much money has been raised so far?  Have we received that matched funding cheque?  Make a big list, diarise each date clearly.  Make detailed notes on participants’ fundraising activities and totals.  Excel spreadsheets are your friends…


MND Scotland group photo

Collect all the material you can, and get your social media in order

If you don’t use a trip like this to collect a year’s worth of promotional photos, you’re doing it wrong.  If you can get a smartphone there, then do.  If you can tweet / facebook / blog from the location, do it.  If the charity rep isn’t digitally literate, get them on a training course. 

If you don’t have these three things, minimum, you’re missing a huge opportunity.  The support the group received on Facebook & Twitter from one member of staff back in the office posting updates was immense.  I was able to check it whenever I got wifi access (better than I’d expected) and feed back messages of support to the group.  Some participants blogged, recorded video, etc.  Some participated in the video that I was making.  All of it is tremendously valuable content.

Don’t forget the follow up

Don’t let the goodbye at the airport be the last time you see the group.  Organise a reunion a few weeks after the event, and once you’ve collected the rest of the money, do a cheque presentation at a meal or something similar.  Our group have remained friends, and some are already talking about the next challenge… 

See our video of our Inca Trail challenge here: 


Photos are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mndscotland/sets/72157631623408065/

Blog is here: https://machupicchu2012.wordpress.com/


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