Goodwill hunting: are you fit enough for generosity?

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No matter how much the recent economic crisis affects Hungarians, their willingness to donate at charity sports events remains noticeable. The only problem is the lack of information about how, where and when they can practice their generosity efficiently. The Budapest Business Journal asked a few pioneers of this relatively new phenomenon about charity sport events in Hungary.

To be an Olympic Torchbearer is perhaps one of the most precious dreams for anyone who loves and practices sports. Especially when the person is not a professional athlete but a devoted fundraiser who would use every limelight opportunity to raise awareness for charitable movements. Andrea Snow, founder of Csemete Alapítvány (Seedling Trust), belongs to this latter group. She has been selected to be one of the few Hungarian “everyday heroes” invited to participate in the Olympic torch relay in England.

Her trust – with a focus to improve the lives of orphans and the disabled living in children’s homes in Budapest – has raised more than HUF 20 million since 2009. It organizes children’s programs and has bought a specially equipped bus to transport children to various outdoor activities. Snow is considered the most successful fundraiser in the Hungarian charity sports events community, where she is also nicknamed the ambassador of charity runs.

“Besides helping children in need, I also wanted to promote charity marathons as a fundraising model in Hungary. These marathons are the pillars of a sustainable, transparent, and viable fundraising model,” Snow told the Budapest Business Journal, referring to major sports events in the world that are famous for raising huge amounts of money for good causes. The London Marathon is the largest annual fundraising event on the planet – runners have raised more than £557 million for good causes since the race began in 1981. Last year a new world record was set for a single event by collecting £51.8 million. In New York City, the annual marathon is also well known for the generous contribution of millions of US dollars, noted Snow, who believes that the proven British model and her three years of work are good examples to follow. A model like the charity marathon is an important part of a thriving democratic society, since it is based not only on one individual’s ability to trigger positive change but also on the communal effort, Snow said, summarizing her vision.

 

Hobby runners for the braves

Another successful and upcoming initiative in Budapest is the Bátor Tábor Alapítvány (Camp for Courage Foundation), which was established in 2001 based on an Irish model. It offers complex therapeutic recreational programs for children with cancer, diabetes, or hemophilia, and also for their families in a superbly developed summer camp. It accommodates 700 children from all over Europe annually. As the BBJ learnt, Bátor Tábor has become a reference point through its effectiveness with charitable sport activities for many smaller organizations. This will only be its third year since getting involved in this field, but the results are already impressive. As program director András Nagygyörgy explained to the BBJ, so far it has recruited some 150-hobby runners who have participated in five events and collected HUF 12 million for the trust. “The methodology is very simple, very cost efficient, and at the same time mutually beneficial for all the participants,” Nagygyörgy said. “We ask companies and other supporters from the civil sector – running clubs, volunteers – if they would run for a good cause to support our mission. This is the outreach level, one of the most challenging parts of our job. In the next step these individuals ask around their network, families and friends to support the mission they decided to run for. Eventually each individual can recruit 15-25 people to donate some money for the charity, so it ends up being a pretty simple pattern. It is just a perfect way to practice corporate social responsibility.”

As Bátor Tábor’s expert explains, for companies it is a very easy way to be active. It is only a matter of openness, since there is no need to pay a single penny, only to encourage their employees to participate as runners or sponsors.

What is also interesting is that negative preconceptions about Hungarians’ donating habits are false. “It is not true that Hungarians are not willing to contribute to a noble cause. Even during the recent crisis, donations have mainly been coming from the middle class and from elderly people. Naturally, the amounts are relatively modest and come to around HUF 1,000-2,000 per individual.

“In Hungary there is no strong culture for charity events, so it takes some time to generate a more visible attention and awareness to the cause,” Nagygyörgy stated, but also added that in order to be successful, one needs creativity and imagination. “We have to conduct our messages in a brilliant way to target more potential supporters.”

Bátor Tábor works in cooperation with the Budapest Sport Iroda (BSI), the most experienced participant of the community sport event business in Hungary with a decades-long history. BSI organizes mega-events for non-professional athletes, such as fitness days with 10,000 participants and running events with 10,000-15,000 people (several thousands of them foreigners) involved. “Árpád Kocsis, our CEO, celebrated his 50th birthday in 2008, and to celebrate as a runner, he organized our very first charity fundraising event,” Petra Babák, BSI’s senior marketing manager, recalled.

Since 2008, BSI has contributed to the charity fundraising processes of several trusts and other civil organizations by providing facilities for donation. It has organized dozens of various collection efforts of used sports equipment, toys and books, and also blood donations. It also has two types of fundraising methods: for some events it automatically deducts a certain amount from the ticket for charity causes, while the other one is a more direct approach, with people moving around the participants asking for on the spot donations. BSI has a special cooperation with the Piros Orr Alapítvány (Red Nose Trust), clown doctors who bring laughter and happiness into sick and old persons’ lives. Thus BSI makes a visible campaign and a dedicated commitment to society, although the largest amount raised at a BSI event through donations was less than HUF 1 million. Babák expressed hopes that in the future BSI might be able to raise more money, since it is planning to have some kind of platform for charitable causes at all its future major events.

 

Innovation and dedication

Michal Levy, representative of the European Maccabi, summarized the success of a recent fundraising event in the Jewish Quarter in downtown Budapest. “We needed innovation, community support, dedication from the developing volunteer movements, a clear message, and transparency,” he said. The international Jewish sports organization and its Hungarian supporters raised more than HUF 800,000 with approximately 500 participants at a community fun run to support 14 Jewish organizations. The entire registration fee was donated to these trusts and NGOs. “Besides building a community, we also wanted to raise awareness for charity causes, since it has not had a long tradition in Hungary,” said the Budapest-based Israeli representative. “At our first event last year, I was a bit skeptical, knowing Hungarian pessimism, but surprisingly with our dedicated volunteers and many fresh-minded young adults we were able to meet our goals and organize a successful event.”

Maccabi’s totally civil initiative is another striking example of how much potential there is in a well-organized and professionally and creatively orchestrated sports charity event.

Snow recalls that, “On all the marathons I have run, I saw those thousands and thousands of people wearing a sign on their shirts showing which organizations they are supporting with donations. It is an automatic thing abroad. If you participate, you ask whom you can donate to. With the running of a marathon, you project a cool and unique image, so it is a worthwhile opportunity to be supported.” She has ran at 16 major events (including marathons in New York, London, and Madrid) and raised money mainly by herself. True, she is in a rather unique position: before she became a devoted charitable person three years ago, inspired by a very personal experience, she worked for Skanska as leasing and marketing director. As an influential real estate person, she could make use of her connections and business techniques. But her vision and passion seem to have paid off so far; she wrote a book advocating her ideas and international experiences, and organized a new initiative. Team Heart is a group of runners with a common goal to raise money for meaningful causes. Their ultimate objective is to make charity marathons a household expression in Hungary.

“We need to unite our forces and wake up civil communities. There is a lot to achieve, and we have no time to waste as long as there are people in need who could benefit from our efforts,” Snow told the BBJ. She was born into a very unhappy, modest miner’s family in the Hungarian countryside. Her personal story made Snow a dedicated fighter for charitable causes and a strong person who runs five times a week: at the age of 45 she is preparing for her fourth New York City Marathon this year. But before that she will travel to the London Olympics to promote her mission as an “everyday hero”. It is not always so difficult to become one of these heroes: there are several running events to be held in Budapest in the next few months and plenty of chances to get involved and start to move society in a better direction.

Robert V. Wallenstein

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