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?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Marketing Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

£33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

Pen Tester / Penentration Tester

£35000 - £55000 per annum + BONUS + BENS: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Penet...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor