Thursday, 14 June 2018

Kidney Research UK makes me sad


Last July I enjoyed Kidney Research UK’s London Bridges walk; a seven-mile hike up and down the Central London section of the Thames raising important funds for kidney disease. It was a fun, family friendly event I was looking forward to doing again, so I was pleased to get a reminder email given the communications last year were decidedly hit and miss. But, having read this year’s terms and conditions I’ve reluctantly decided not to bother. 

Last year it was £10 to register and from memory there was a suggested sponsorship target of £60. £10 seemed a bargain considering it included a t-shirt so I made an additional contribution, and I covered the suggested sponsorship with donations from family and friends as well as out of my own pocket. But the important thing was that I didn’t feel under pressure to hit a target, I simply donated money as I received it. 

This year things have changed. When I followed up the email I found registration has increased to £15, which I thought was reasonable. However, there was now a £100 minimum sponsorship target with some rather wretched boilerplate text to the effect that people who cannot commit to it aren’t welcome. Since the original email I’ve checked back and the wording has been tweaked a few times, for example ‘minimum sponsorship’ was rebranded ‘suggested sponsorship’ and the FAQ have been modified but the boilerplate still essentially tells people who cannot commit £100 sponsorship to jog on. 

I know it’s in a good cause, that’s why I’ve previously supported it, and I could also cover the minimum sponsorship from my own pocket without hardship, which is possibly why I am so torn over this (if I couldn’t there wouldn’t be any debate), but I’m an analyst by disposition as well as occupation and the reasoning for this rather wretched policy just doesn’t stack up and that leaves a bad smell I just cannot ignore. I can afford to entertain this, but there are probably people out there who will be excluded even though they could make a positive contribution if they weren’t.

The original boilerplate (since amended) appeared to be copied over from other fund-raising events without sufficient copy editing to make it specific; for example it discusses the need to cover the costs of major events organised by other organisations such as the London Marathon, where places are highly coveted and very expensive (a charity place for the London Marathon costs hundreds of pounds). But this event is organised by Kidney Research UK and whilst costs need to be covered by participants they’re not on the scale of a marathon which requires road closures, policing, and significant support infrastructure from public sector bodies. 

More recent boilerplate covers the more realistic costs incurred by this event such as stewards, tents, snacks etc. This is perfectly reasonable, but after some cursory research into equivalent events I conclude that costs are probably covered by the £15 registration fee, with sponsorship being the contribution to the charity’s actual mission. For comparison Diabetes UK are running an almost identical event in September with a £5 registration fee and no minimum sponsorship, it suggests a sponsorship target of £120 which I have no problem with, but crucially it stresses its walk as a family event and doesn’t get heavy about minimums. 

The relationship between the actual cost of the event and the registration fee also explains the incongruous decision to allow late entrants to sign-up on the day for £25. Unless such entrants are only allowed to join with a pre-registered participant it’s unlikely they’ll have set up a sponsorship programme beforehand. If I’m right, the marginal revenue of £25 from a late sign-up more than covers the marginal cost of accommodating them, especially as by that point the costs are mostly sunk. 

I don’t have all the numbers, but my conclusion is that by being heavy handed about minimum sponsorship Kidney Research UK is estimating that participation numbers are relatively inelastic when it comes to sweating fund raisers for contributions. After all is said and done most of them will have experience of kidney disease, whether personally or through friends and family, and will shrug off the unpleasantness implicit in such calculations. For me though it’s too much of a spoiler. I’m still going to make a donation to Kidney Research UK, as I think the work is too important not to, but it won’t be as much as had it not been so grubby.

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