“This weekend? Just scaling Kilimanjaro darling” – how physical philanthropy is changing corporate culture

There’s a tireless trend sweeping the capital’s businesses - have you got your walking boots ready?

A select team from luxury British fashion house Mulberry have just arrived back into their Kensington office following a weekend away. Massaging their sore feet they sit back at their desks and get back to the job of designing some of London’s most iconic handbags.

Have they worn their heels in strutting around a trade show in Milan? No. They’ve got blisters from completing the three peaks challenge. Between the early hours of Saturday morning and Sunday morning they climbed to the peaks of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike (England’s lesser known tallest peak) and Snowdon.

All within 24 hours, not all in daylight, but all for charity.

The trend

Team Mulberry isn’t alone. Companies all over London are encouraging their employees to take part in extreme physical challenges to raise money for their chosen cause. Around 30,000 people take the Three Peak Challenge every year and it is estimated that a whopping third of those are in corporate groups.

So what exactly has gotten into London’s employees? As a city we don’t exactly have a reputation for being overly fit or health conscious. No-one would see us as a rival to the gym junkies of LA or Sydney.

Yet commuting every day, you see more and more people running to and from work. Increasing numbers are hopping onto bicycles to get around. And employees are eagerly opting in to push their bodies to the limit and raise some money for charity.

Is it taboo to be lazy in London?

Getting wet on a jungle trek

Getting wet on a jungle trek

The catalysts

Charity Challenge is one of the companies that facilitate these extreme group excursions. Co-founder Simon Albert explained to me that there is more to the trend than meets the eye:

“When we set up the company 12 years ago corporate involvement was zero. Around four years ago you would have found maybe one in four of our clients were corporate – then the crash happened.

“Companies such as Coutts, Reuters and Lloyds that would have funded charity work before cut their funding. Now more and more companies are encouraging their staff to take these challenges - money still goes to charity but the companies don’t have to foot the bill.”

When these companies suggest taking part in challenges it is up to the employees who sign up to both raise the capital to pay for their trips and raise the donations through sponsorship. For companies feeling the pinch of tough economic times this is free team building, great PR and a way of maintaining existing relationships with charity partners.  

The Bribery Act

But could there be even more pushing the trend? According to Albert, the recent headache known as the Bribery Act has also encouraged a spate of charity-lead excursions between companies and their clients:

“Engaging clients is a lot harder now because of the Bribery Act. Many companies see this as a good way to cement relationships. When you spend a week trekking together you get to know people very well.”

Oliver Stanley, an associate at law firm Bird & Bird agrees that the Act could have the surprise side effect of sending more of our companies and their clients on these exertive trips:

“Charitable challenges are a great way for companies to develop personal relationships with clients and if the clients are required to pay their own costs, then this will reduce a company’s risk of a Bribery Act infringement. 

“Clients paying their own way will mitigate the risks of a Bribery Act infringement for any form of corporate hospitality but for charitable challenges, the fund-raising objective may also provide protection against the inference of any improper purpose behind the event,” continues Stanley. “And that’s a key element of the Bribery Act.”

Just Give

As thousands of our capital’s employees donning their walking boots and setting off for dangerous terrain there is another nascent trend which is boosting the collection of sponsorship.  Websites such as JustGiving.com make the whole process of fundraising simpler for both the employee and their sponsors.

Companies can create their own profiles with employees’ individual and team fundraising pages linked to it. Tracking how much has been raised, reaching targets and fostering a bit of healthy competition has never been easier.

Those wishing to pledge some cash just enter their details, and leave messages of support on the walls of the intrepid recipients.

Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles with Ronan Keating at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro

Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles with Ronan Keating at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro

Climb every mountain?

So what motivates people to spend days, sometimes weeks putting themselves through physical hardship?

The obvious answer would be to raise money; there is no doubt that handing over a big fat juicy cheque to your charity of choice will fill you with “feel good factor” a many months. But there’s something deeper happening.

London is activating itself like never before and these personal challenges feed that desire to push oneself.

“The whole travel market is changing,” says Albert. “Fewer people want to just head off and sit on a beach for their holidays. People are feeling the need to challenge themselves. Adventure travel is really taking off and the charity element is becoming a big part of that.”

In June of this year a team from the London office of Reckitt Benckiser sent two teams to join employees from their offices in 32 different other countries to complete two separate challenges in Brazil. One team endured a 75km trek through the jungle; the other took part in a community renovation.

“The people that took part in the challenges are extremely achievement focused,” explains Sandra Hennessy of Reckitt Benckiser. “Many wanted to take it on as part of a goal to get fitter – there were 300 applications in total.”

There’s no hiding behind your share bag of Maltesers anymore. With the cartel of exercise hungry Londoners taking on these challenges there’s no excuse for not getting involved. But where should you set your lofty sights? We asked Albert where the favourite challenge hotspots were.

“In general people like to take part in parts of the world that they have heard of. Machu Picchu is a firm favourite,” he told us. “We had a 500 per cent increase in interest in Kilimanjaro after the celebrity climb for comic relief.”

There you have it, what are you waiting for? If Chris Moyles and Girls Aloud can do it….

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