How we did it – SOFII’s first foray into challenge event fundraising, intro

You may already know that the SOFII website is a run by a small charity with three part-time staff – The SOFII Foundation. In this series the SOFII team share how we supported our founder, Ken Burnett, when he chose to take on our first-ever challenge event. With no experience in this area of fundraising, we learned as we went along. Our introductory article shares how it all started, in the hope that we can help other small charity fundraisers step into these sorts of events.

Written by
Joanna Culling
March 03, 2022
SOFII shares how we made challenge fundraising work for our small charity.

I’ve been looking after fundraising at SOFII since late 2019. We’re a small charity and I always hoped that one day, someone would want to undertake a big fundraising challenge in aid of The SOFII Foundation. We could support them, motivate them, and help them tell the world how SOFII inspires fundraisers around the world. 

Hopefully, our kind supporter would raise lots of money and by sharing their journey everyone would see why SOFII is such a wonderful gift to fundraisers everywhere… hey I can dream, right?

Then, suddenly, on June 15th 2021 my dream came true. I was thrilled! But I was also a little surprised by who it was that wanted to undertake a really, really tough challenge for SOFII. 

Houston, we have a fundraiser!

SOFII’s first ever intrepid fundraiser was our very own Ken Burnett. In his classic, nonchalant style Ken emailed to tell me that ‘the walk’ he was training for wasn’t actually a pub crawl in Suffolk as we suspected, but rather a 500-mile epic challenge along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. 

You can read Ken’s initial message to me below. Click the image to make it bigger, then hit back to return to the article when you are finished.   

I love how Ken told me that his friend Virginia (Ginny) had suggested he walk the Camino to raise money for SOFII, before casually asking, ‘what do you think?’

What did I think?!

I thought, ‘Yes, yes please, thank you, yippee, wow that’s a long way.’ 

But I was a bit flustered. I replied so hastily that instead of saying something lovely including all the grateful emotions above, I said (abridged version):

‘You’re not old. My Grandpa lived to 102. (hindsight… obviously totally irrelevant!)

‘Yes of course, we’ll get behind it and support you.

‘Shall we design you a little logo?’


Where was my profuse appreciation for what had just been suggested? Was this the rapid reply of a fundraiser who had never had anyone offer to do a fundraising challenge for their organisation? Probably. Would I recommend responding to a donor and potential challenge event participant like this? No!

But why am I sharing my foibles and embarrassment with you openly today? 

I’m doing this because (spoiler alert!) it all worked out well in the end. It worked out so well in fact, that here at SOFII we thought we’d write a little series on how we did it, sharing our process and some of the communications we created for our donors. 

I know how hard it is when you have a small team and are lacking the experience and resources that big charities have. Trying something new can feel daunting. You might even be tempted to tell your donor to go ahead and let you know how much they raise when they’ve finished. Leave them to it, if you will. 

But what if you helped support their challenge and cultivate great content from their journey to share with your other supporters? Could you engage with your supporters and encourage them to follow in your donor’s footsteps? Would supporters give more than once if you get your fundraising and stewardship communications right? We think so!

SOFII hopes that this series will offer some hints, tips, and advice on how to go about supporting a donor who wants to do a challenge for you. We don’t claim to know it all, in fact we certainly don’t and there are probably a few things we’d do differently next time. But this series is designed to help motivate and inspire other small charities who want to ask supporters to start fundraising for you. 

Ken’s first pair of walking boots, painted by his Camino companion, Ginny.

Here’s what we’re going to share, from our experience of Ken’s challenge:

In part one, we’ll cover logistics. Sounds boring, I know, but it’s all the necessary evils like setting yourself up to collect donations and Gift Aid online, making a plan for who does what, and ensuring that you’re ready to go when your fundraiser starts their training and, eventually, their big challenge.  

Then, in part two we’ll talk about how you can support your fundraiser as they ‘make the ask’, thank their donors, and start to collate stories and content for creating great communications.

And finally in part three we’ll look at how you use storytelling, good images and updates to keep your donors engaged from that initial preparation, all the way to reaching the finish line of a challenge. 

So if that sounds interesting and useful for you and your charity, stay tuned for part one – it’s coming soon on SOFII!

About the author: Joanna Culling

Joanna Culling

Joanna Culling (she/her) returned to SOFII in 2019 after a stint as a contributing editor in 2016. She currently helps develop the site whilst also looking after our valued supporters. Her career began in healthcare marketing in the USA, where she worked for The George Washington University Hospital and the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM). Joanna later joined RNID in London, her first role in charity fundraising. 

But her love for the sector really took off during five years in the creative team at specialist fundraising agency Bluefrog – first as a copywriter and later as head of copy. During this time Joanna was lucky enough to work on campaigns for a wide range of clients and find a treasure trove for creative inspiration – which, of course, is SOFII. 

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