MAD Beginnings

MAD Challenges was a ridiculous idea that turned into a “one-off” event, which turned into a project with big ambitions… It began with a simple question:

“What can I do to get sponsorship that will get peoples’ attention?”

The primer for this was a new organisation I had just been introduced to – Do Nation – that has created a new concept in sponsorship. The idea, in my opinion, is the cat’s pyjamas: people sponsor you by pledging actions, not money.

Why Raise Sponsorship Anyway?

Before I explain, let’s clarify why people raise sponsorship in the first place: for charities, obviously. But the point is that giving money to charities is a great way to help make the world a better place in the ways that you care about. So, what if you value things like good health, avoiding waste, supporting local economies, and preserving your local landscape? Well, it turns out that a lot of the power to improve these things rests with us – you, me, friends, family and colleagues. But how do we make use of this potential…?

One way is to collect sponsorship money to give to a charity so they can run an awareness campaign aimed at influencing our choices and behaviours. This is fine, but seems perhaps a little inefficient and ineffective. With Do Nation, however, the game changes. Instead of asking your friends for money, you simply ask them to pledge to change a habit or two for a couple of months. This could be anything from boiling just the right amount of water in the kettle, to cycling to work, to switching energy supplier – Do Nation provides the list of actions and the explanation for what benefits they bring. People simply choose what makes sense for them! Genius.

The Precursor Event…

So, back to the MAD journey. I’d been challenged to see how many pledges I could raise, and I like a challenge. The solution seemed pretty obvious to me: I needed an event stupid enough that it would grab peoples’ attention.

There was really only one thing I could go for, even though I was a little reluctant: a gruelling 24hr repetitive hike up and down Arthur’s Seat – a 250m high rocky hill in Edinburgh. This was something a group of friends and I came up with back in 2007, did once and never thought we’d do again.

But it turned out to be a surprisingly fun event. Eight people took part and loads more supported, bringing snacks, coffee, a puppy and celebratory beer. The record set was a whopping 42 ascents – the equivalent of hiking up and down a ~5.5km high mountain in 24hrs!

What was the impact of all these ups and downs? Do Nation calculates that the potential CO2 emissions savings from all the pledges collected was nearly 7 tonnes – about as much as the average person in the UK emits each year. And that’s not to mention all the other benefits the pledges bring. Not bad for one little event!

The MAD Seed Was Sewn

A friend of mine (and now MAD Challenges co-founder), Meredith, took part in this first challenge and shares a love of the great outdoors. We got talking a little while after the event and, with the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight, decided that there might be something more to this ridiculous outdoor challenge thing… A whole series of novel endurance events dedicated to Do Nation-style social engagement, perhaps? We’d not heard of anything like it before… So we got planning, recruited a team of volunteers, and, well, I’ll let Meredith tell the rest…