DoNation: 'If 50 people give up bottled water, I will run a marathon'

Forget hounding your friends for cash – a new sponsorship site asks people for good deeds, not their money. By Alice-Azania Jarvis

A A A

To Hermione Taylor, it was a logical solution to a short-term problem. Due to embark on a sponsored cycle ride from London to Morocco, she found herself unwilling to nag friends for money. "It was the start of the credit crunch and a lot of people were students," she explains. "It felt like too much to ask." So she asked for something else: a promise. A promise to do a bit of good for the planet."We knew we wanted to do something for the environment – and, ultimately, that does not need money, it needs action."

The result was a list of 216 "pledges" from friends and family. They ranged from promising to eat less meat to washing clothes on a cool heat and, says Taylor, amounted to 16 tonnes of saved carbon (or, as she puts it "84 return flights to Morocco"). In the end, Taylor's grand cycle – which saw her sleep on beaches, stay with good samaritans and camp on hotel roofs – took 40 days. Its legacy has lasted much longer. Not only did she find that three-quarters of her sponsors continued their green actions after the allotted two months – but Taylor realised she had hit upon something potentially far bigger that a cycle race.

Having read for a masters in environmental technology at Imperial College London, she was only too familiar with the difficulty of encouraging green behaviour: "I'd focused on behavioural change and had looked at all sorts of so-called 'pledge schemes'. Talking to everyone when I got back, I realised that this ticked all the boxes for a good one."

Her idea was to take her pledge system and marry it with the online giving culture, pioneered by websites such as JustGiving, Virgin Money Giving and The Big Give. It's a field which, over the past decade, has expanded enormously – JustGiving, which handles some 85 per cent of all online donations – collected a staggering £188 million for charity in 2010 alone. The company has come in for criticism for its private, for-profit business model – unlike Virgin Money Giving, they deduct 5 per cent of every donation made and charities must pay £15 a month for membership – but Taylor points out the good they've done. "They've made giving so much easier – though I knew I'd have to be bit more innovative. For me, it was all about action, not donation." And so began a long year of planning, networking, researching and fund-raising, as Taylor attempted to turn her idea into a viable social enterprise. She was awarded two grants which paid for her cost of living. The rest she did alone – well, apart from the support of the social enterprise community and the help, since January, of an intern. Taylor had to turn her idea into a web-based reality, which meant acquiring knowledge of marketing, communications and design.

It's paid off. Earlier this month, thedonation.org.uk went live. Among those who've already signed up are Xavier Roeseler, who's hiking Spain's Camino Santiago, and Bojana Bajzalj and Will Usher, who plan to cycle from London to Ljubljana in 21 days. On signing up to the site, sponsors are given a choice of 20 actions that they can pledge to perform for a limited amount of time. Grouped into five categories – food, travel, energy, home and shopping – they range from giving up bottled water to installing solar panels. Make your selection, and you're met with a brief questionnaire to record your current habits and assess the change you will make. For every sponsor, an approximate carbon saving is worked out, allowing users to calculate their impact. "That's a big draw for people," explains Taylor of this. "The fact that there's a measurable benefit really makes a difference."

There is, of course, one potential flaw. Unlike websites where you pledge money, the DoNation can't hold everyone to account. It's perfectly possible – at least in theory – to pledge a bit of good behaviour and then default on it. This is something Taylor has thought long and hard about – and she believes she has a solution: "What we've done, essentially, is use a form of peer pressure. All the pledges are listed in public and, given that it's a friend or acquaintance that you are sponsoring, you're likely to be surrounded by people to police you."

It's with this in mind that I decide to give the system a go. Taylor counsels against opting for anything too ambitious – I don't have a bike, so cycling's out of the question. Equally, though, there's little point pledging something you already do. So no promise to take the stairs over the lift, or to wash on a low heat. Instead I decide to green my frequent trips to the kettle by promising to boil only the amount of water I'm going to use. And you know what? I've stuck to it (so far). It means waiting a fraction of the time that it would to boil a full kettle, too. Bonus! "A lot of people find that there are other positive repercussions," agrees Taylor. "It's not just about carbon."

Over the next year, she wants to expand the DoNation's capabilities, forming partnerships with companies, and expanding into a host of pledge-making activities. So far, most people who have signed up for the site have been doing some kind of sponsored race. Hopefully, the events will get more varied as time goes on – "We'd love to do a wedding list!" she says. Central to everything is a single simple message: behaving responsibly can be fun: "It can be a chore trying to be green. But we're making it social."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect