Charity fund-raisers put faith in Everest treks and rides across Russia

Sponsored walks and parachute jumps are giving way to farther- flung money-making schemes, writes Louise Jury
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CHARITIES are abandoning the sponsored walk for the long trek. Walking the Himalayas or cycling through Russia is the new way of raising money.

Abseiling and parachuting have had their moments of popularity, but the fund-raisers of today are thinking bigger - from the Great Wall of China to the Sahara Desert. David Graham, who runs an organisation that helps charities arrange treks, said: "It's a question of findingideas that capture people's imagination. Because charities are always looking to drag in new supporters and new money, it's about being innovative."

Most of the treks and cycle rides work like this: after paying a registration fee of about pounds 200- pounds 350, participants pledge to raise a sum, usually of pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000. About half pays for the trip and the rest benefits the charity.

This year Mr Graham is arranging trips for the Leonard Cheshire Homes, Capital Radio's children's charity, and a coalition of Welsh charities. He set up his Big Events Company 18 months ago after working for the cerebral palsy charity Scope, which began treks in 1995.

"I wanted to set up a more efficient, more cost-effective way of running them," he said. Instead of paying travel operators' mark-ups, he negotiates better rates and takes over all the organisation, including guides and equipment.

Three or four treks a year can net pounds 500,000 profit. But there is an even more important benefit: people involved enjoy themselves so much that they want to help again in the future. Mr Graham said: "People come on board quite early to have time to raise the money and then become committed to the charity."

Nigel Gilbert-Harris, of the Friends of Russian Children, said it was among the first to think adventurously. This will be its fourth year of organising a bicycle ride - 900 miles from Helsinki to Moscow in three weeks. Shorter, 450-mile stretches are available and the cyclists get a chance to visit the hospital burns unit for children in Moscow which is the main beneficiary. Last year they made pounds 140,000.

"It is increasingly difficult to raise money through trust funds and corporate bodies," Mr Gilbert-Harris said. "Running bike rides, we get people who ordinarily might not think of going to our charity but are excited by what we're offering."

But it is hard work getting sponsorship. Retired electrician Jack Lewis, 80, from near Redditch, Worcestershire, has taken part in the ride twice, partly because he loves visiting Russia."My eyes have been opened tremendously. People you would have thought were guaranteed to give don't," he said.

Jim Swindells, of the charity Sense, for people who are deaf and blind, said his group hopes to raise pounds 150,000 from a trek in the Himalayas organised by the mountaineer Doug Scott. So far, more than 100 enquiries have been received and some deaf-blind people may be among the group. "It offers something out of the ordinary, a real experience that they are going to remember and value for the rest of their lives," he said.

"We are attracting a group of new fund-raisers. They are people who wouldn't in the normal course of things be exposed to what we do."

Another charity venturing into the market is the Community Drug and Alcohol Initiative, which is organising a bicycle ride from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea through Israel. Participants are being asked to raise pounds 2,000. The group's Kate Foday said it was difficult to raise money for drugs charities but it was felt that this might be a way of getting people interested. "It does take a lot of effort, but the returns are quite high compared with something like a parachute jump," she said. A typical jump might raise pounds 100.

The Cancer Research Campaign found that many people who took part in its treks to Morocco and Uzbekistan in Central Asia had personal reasons - either a bereavement through cancer or a cancer scare of their own. This year it has attracted its first corporate sponsor, Iceland Foods. Around 80 staff are to trek in, appropriately, Iceland.

o Big Events Company, 0800 731 3766; Friends of Russian Children, 0171 404 7766; Sense, 0870 129 0101; Community Drug and Alcohol Initiative, 0171 251 5860; Cancer Research Campaign, 0171 224 1333.