Lend a helping hand on the other side of the world

When Alyson Hutton turned 40 and started asking what life was all about, she didn’t expect to find the answer in Nepal. This married mum of two, rocked by the sudden death of two friends, found herself questioning her priorities in life.

“It was quite selfish really,” recalls Hutton, “but I wanted to do something different and see a different way of life. Charity walks or climbs just didn’t seem enough so I decided to do a community challenge with Action Aid.”

Organised by Charity Challenge, the 16-day trip took Hutton to a remote village in Nepal to work with people who had just been released from bonded labour and had nothing of their own but the clothes they stood in. “It was a real culture shock,” says Hutton. “I couldn’t believe how poor these people were. Yet they were so inspiring: smiling, dancing and working hard to improve their lives.”

The team of Action Aid volunteers got to work building houses for the community. The work was physically demanding and the living conditions spartan, but Hutton, who had to raise more than £3,200 to go on the trip, says it was a life-changing experience – and she’s already planning a return visit. “My husband thought the trip would get it out of my system but it’s under my skin now,” says Hutton, who is planning a parachute jump next month to raise money for Action Aid.

Raising funds for charity needn’t involve anything quite so hair-raising as jumping out of a plane. And while many people like to link their fundraising to a personal challenge, be it running a marathon or climbing a series of high peaks, it’s perfectly possible to make a difference without breaking a sweat. From sponsored toddles for mums-and-tots to cake bakes and supper evenings for foodies, there is no shortage of ways to raise money – the A-Z of fundraising ideas on CharityChallenge.com offering abundant inspiration.

“It’s all equally valid and the money is all really appreciated,” says a spokesman for Oxfam. “We’re constantly surprised by the things people do, and the personal challenges they overcome.”

Quite small donations can make a big difference to people living in extreme poverty overseas. Just £10 will buy a bushel of rice seed to help a poor family grow food to eat and sell; £21 can buy five mosquito nets treated with insecticide to protect children from malaria (one African child dies of malaria every 30 seconds); £100 pays for the training of one villager in Borneo to become a Wildlife Warden to protect endangered species and habitats; £411 can train a midwife in Sierra Leone to save the lives of mothers and babies.

There are many different charities working across the globe, from international aid to wildlife conservation. Big charities have the international reach and global clout to help out in large-scale disasters and deliver ongoing aid in some of the poorest or most dangerous countries in the world while small charities, with their low overheads, often punch above their weight and offer a more hands-on role for supporters.

In these cost-conscious times it may seem daunting to ask people to donate money for communities living thousands of miles away, yet the urge to help others in desperate plight runs deep, with an awareness of their need helping to put our own problems in perspective. Comic Relief is one of the juggernauts of fundraising in the UK, raising £102m at this year’s Red Nose Day in March, its most successful year to date. Marketing manager Genny Murphy knows a thing or two about running a successful campaign.

“Perhaps surprisingly it’s the old classics that are simple to run that are the most popular and raise the most money,” says Genny. “Getting sponsored to wear fancy dress or pyjamas or doing something funny with your hair – grow it, shave it, wax it or dye it – these are all firm favourites with our fundraisers.”

Make sure you shout about what you’re doing so people know to support you: posters, press releases and stickers all help spread the word. Social networking can be particularly effective: online fundraisers who used Comic Relief’s tool to post their fundraising activity to Facebook raised almost double the amount of those who didn’t.

It’s important to keep an accurate track of any money raised. Increasingly people are turning to online tools, such as Just Giving or VirginMoneyGiving.com, to collect sponsorship money online, see all their sponsors and the amounts they’ve given, set and edit their fundraising target and add money they’ve raised in person. It’s a nice touch to stay in contact with your sponsors.

Let them know how much you raised, how it will help and, importantly, to say thank you.

'Now we've started, we can't give up'

A chance meeting prompted high-flying corporate executive Sheryl Greentree to found the charity Water For Africa, which provides clean drinking water for communities in Gambia.

“I met a man at a local restaurant who told me about the water problems in the Gambia, where there was plenty of water underground but no way to access it. There was a solution – a drilling rig, developed by Cranfield University, that fits on the back of a trailer – and I just knew this was something I could help deliver. Drawing on my experience of working in an industry with very tight margins, we came up with a model for a not-for-profit organisation to drill boreholes in the country. We became a registered charity in 2006 and have now drilled over a 100 boreholes in Gambia, making a huge difference to the communities.

You can’t do anything if you don’t have access to clean water – children there are drinking water so dirty and cloudy it looks like milk and the women are walking an average of 5km a day to fetch water. When we drill a borehole and put in taps, they have clean water, they can irrigate and grow food, and the time saved on fetching water can be used by the women to build businesses to sustain their families and put their children through school.

We keep the drilling team in Africa so they’re on the ground when communities have problems with their supply; over 50 per cent of water sources across Africa are failing at the moment because wells have been built without adequate long term support and infrastructure. We only drill boreholes because they’re a better, safer long-term solution than open wells.

We’re a very small organisation with very low overheads; I know where every penny is spent and we’re not raising money to keep the charity running or to pay for huge fundraising campaigns. I’ve downsized my lifestyle and am living on quite a low budget so I can spend my time on this. It’s been really inspiring and I have got just as much from working with these amazing people as they have got from us. Now we’ve started, we can’t give up. It’s my lifetime mission now.”

'It makes you very appreciative of your life'

Natalie Amoatin works in the music industry but a fundraising trip to South Africa in 2009 changed her priorities.

“I was picked to go on a charity challenge to South Africa by my employer, Universal Music, which every year picks a different charity. In 2009 it was Action Aid, and the challenge was to build a community centre for a village in South Africa.

The cost of the trip, organised by Charity Challenge, was £3,000 and Universal kindly donated half of that money for each person in the team and then we had to raise £11,000 as a group. We had eight months to raise the money and we worked bloody hard, raising £33,000. I did a sponsored parachute jump and made a cake every single Monday for eight months, selling it for a pound a slice at work. It was a simple idea but it raised £1,500.

The challenge itself was hard work. We had to lay the foundations of the building, mix cement, lay bricks. I’d never done anything physical like that before – I don’t even go to Glastonbury because I don’t do mud! I also wasn’t prepared for the heat; we would start work at 8am and by 9am it was already 30 degrees.

But it was the most amazing experience and we still get updates on the community centre we built. It was quite hard to adjust when I came back. You realise all the little things you moan about on a daily basis really do not matter.

It makes you very appreciative of your life and you want to do more to help. A lot of people on the trip felt the same way and some of them have actually left Universal to go and work for charities full time. I’ve also carried on working with Action Aid. I went out to Ghana where my parents are from and got involved with an Action Aid project there, working with women who make and sell bread to sustain their families. The experience has really changed my life.”

'We can all play a part in defining the world's future'

Neva Khan is a nurse and midwife who took her first steps in international aid working for GOAL in Sudan and Ethiopia. Today she is Oxfam’s country director in Pakistan.

“There is no such thing as a typical day in this role and this is both the best and the worst thing about the job! I start early but you can never be off duty.

I'm responsible for a staff of 320 humanitarian and development professionals, mainly from Pakistan, who are working incredibly hard to address the many challenges that were brought to the fore by the devastating floods of 2010. I get to meet amazing people who have such resilience and are able to re-build their lives so many times after losing everything.

We've just launched a campaign on ending economic injustice in Pakistan. Oxfam brought 250 poor farmers from all over the country to meet with government officials. They raised concerns about loss of land during the floods and it was such an inspiring moment to see the government officials ask for a list of individuals concerned for further investigation. Moments like these make it worth it.

Oxfam's commitment to making a fairer world sounds like ambitious rhetoric, but I see our teams here in Pakistan contributing in small steps to that goal everyday. We often work in areas with great need and little opportunities, yet Oxfam prioritises these communities, seeking them out and helping them access their rights. We have a gorgeous world and I believe that we can all play a part in defining its future.

I feel driven to make the world a fairer place. We can only do that by challenging the wrongs that exist and helping those with responsibility to protect their people to be able to do that. Until those with the power and responsibility can adequately ensure this, there’s a grave need for charities like Oxfam to stand up for justice, provide that last resort in emergencies and make sure those unable to protect themselves in the 21st century are treated as humans with dignity.”