Influences on behaviour

Fundraising till it hurts

Increasingly, charity starts with our bodies.

As this recent article in the Conversation points out, social media and philanthropy have come together in a formidable partnership, where suffering or denial for a cause and being able to share it appeals to a cluster of behaviours; personal validation, peer-to-peer interaction, social media updates and a desire for better health. 


The BehaviourWorks team, like thousands of others, are taking part in the 10,000 Steps Challenge, a virtual race where we are armed with pedometers and are counting our steps each day. The website extolls volunteers to join “colleagues, friends and family in a race to a better, healthier you!”, and while it’s not designed to raise funds for charity, it ticks all the boxes; it’s pro-social, it’s competitive and there’s a physical challenge involved.

Charitable activity where the body is the key to engagement is called Embodied Philanthropy. Gone are the days of sitting down for a read-a-thon; today we run, ride, douse ourselves in ice water, grow (and style) facial hair or go without alcohol for an entire month to raise funds. Often, we’re not even sure what the cause is for, we’re doing it because others are.

Social media has been a huge boost for these sorts of fundraisers.  Peer-to-peer sharing provides free publicity and supports our desire to have something to share online. And along the way, we’re learning or modelling better behaviours that might just bring about permanent lifestyle changes.

It’s not all sacrifice – like all selfless acts, there are a range of incentives for taking part. We might get a buzz out of a new look or gain bragging rights at the office. We might enjoy the training for the event itself, and the collegiality of being in a team. We might actually feel better by abstaining from booze.

Whatever the mix of motivations, embodied philanthropy has been turbo-charged by social media and our ability to generate interest and empathy through voluntary personal suffering. 

Only 9,500 steps to go…
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The perfect fundraising combo; a selfie of a pedometer.