Supporting a charity organisation such as Oxfam, you would tend to think that feelings of compassion and unification would overwhelm. – When I recently ran the New York City marathon having raised funds for Oxfam’s work, this certainly wasn’t the case.
Oxfam’s work worldwide, has been largely acclaimed amongst some of the best ‘charity’ work being carried out, which is why running the NYC marathon in support of this work was not such a hard decision. It soon became clear however, that there would be a lot of money involved from my end, and not much reciprocation from the circling vultures that Oxfam Australia soon became.
For this project, Oxfam Australia affiliated themselves with a ‘travel adventure’ group called ‘Travelling Fit’, and seemingly does so for many (if not all) of its similar campaigns. To say that this is a comfortable agreement for both parties would be a gross understatement.
While Oxfam simply faded into the shadows once my initial $770 fee had been paid to them through another of their affiliates Inspired Adventures, it was from here that Travelling Fit took over to ensure I was fleeced for as many dollars as possible.
This isn’t to forget Oxfam’s insatiable personal hunger for cash either, and having already been on a mailing list of theirs (which is how I got my marathon invitation in the first place), my usual 1 or 2 spams a month from Oxfam Australia, soon doubled, tripled and even sat at 2, sometimes 3 a week, for much of the 7 or so months I took on this ‘adventure’.
Buy buy buy! Their emails would plead – Spend this money, buy this thing, help this campaign, support this cause – Hadn’t I already pledged to raise at least $5000 ? Wasn’t this enough? Or were my details just fed into their money-spinning machine, to be spat out the other side in my soon over-Oxfammed inbox? Well, so it would seem.
Despite my late entry into the fray, it wasn’t long before I was being ‘politely reminded’ that the thousands of dollars which Travelling Fit insisted it needed from me (and this was separate from the monies i was expected to raise as well) were due, or overdue.
Here’s a breakdown of the costs that without paying in full, I would have been ineligible to run the race (essentially: You want to do the marathon for us? – Here’s what it’ll cost you for this favour we’re granting) –
For $4049 (+ tax and credit card fees, because these obviously couldn’t be waived/included), Travelling Fit gave in return:
- 5 nights accommodation at a way uptown, semi-decent hotel in Manhattan, New York City.
This extortionate price for a hotel room that I would barely use, and that I had to check out of the day after the race, crippled and ruined, was made to look reasonable (despite the fact that it was conspicuously dearer than the hotel’s advertised rate, and assuming Travelling Fit received a huge discount for booking so many rooms) by the following ‘ad-ons’:
- A travelling fit representative (whom I never met, and who was never present in the hotel’s lobby, despite saying he/she would be)
- A limited edition ‘coolmax’ running top (more than likely an item donated by a sponsor to promote their ‘coolmax’ technology)
- A pre-race pasta dinner (shoved into a huge hall, kitchen churning out pasta, ushered through, then kicked out promptly after your timeslot had elapsed)
- A ‘breakfast box’ on raceday (never seen or found. There was a table of muesli bars and bananas in the back corridor of the hotel’s lobby that most of us gathered there wouldnt have discovered)
- Plus a few other inconsequential ‘meet and greets’ and ‘training runs’
Value for fucking money right there huh?!
Mid-year, when my final payment – in excess of $2500 – for the above was overdue, I received the following email from Travelling Fit:
We hope you are well.
This email is just being sent to any of our 2014 TCS New York City Marathon clients who have yet to pay their balance in full which is now overdue since last Friday 1st August.
Please contact us urgently by tomorrow afternoon at the latest to advise payment details. We are due to submit to our supplier the New York running shirt order by close of business tomorrow and if you haven’t paid in full you will miss out.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
… My reply, which will serve to explain why I make mention of this letter, was as follows:
As a late entrant to this race, I was under the impression – as given me by Lucy at Oxfam/Inspired – that the original payment schedule would be slightly adjusted to suit my timings.
– I have been working extremely hard to raise money for Oxfam – adopting creative means, and working through adventurous ideas – and also to meet the more than significant costs required to enter the race through traveling fit. I make a point of emphasizing the word ‘through’, because the service provided for the massive markup/cut you are accruing has been somewhat hypocritical/opposing to the sentiments of social justice and charity that I have entered this run for.
It also cannot go without saying: I am running and training to complete this race in an extremely fast time – I’m not just running for ‘fun’. On top of the monumental hotel costs (some AUD$1000 more for the same stay, according to the hotel’s website – a price I am certain you are also getting discount on), I am also paying large sums for multiple pairs of running shoes, nutritional supplements, gps running watches, massages, running attire and other accessories to enable me to train 6 and 7 days a week in order to do my best in this campaign that I am very excited about being involved in.
With spending money, my own out of pocket expenses will amount to well over AUD$10000 – dwarfing the total I am expected to raise for Oxfam. – Aside from the desire to take on this extreme physical challenge (and be extremely successful in the process), raising money for those in need was a close and important second, in terms of my motivation for coming on board.
It is most unfortunate, that you choose to use the phrase ‘you will miss out’ in your correspondence, as my own efforts, motivations, ambitions and aspirations do not in any way at all justify ‘missing out’, simply because I am not paying these significant costs in a fashion that fits in with the schedule outlined.
I have all intentions of making this payment at a more than appropriate time.
I also trust that you will use your discretion when considering the above mentioned.
Thanks in advance
… Despite the fact that this was proving to be contrary to why id signed up, I was too far committed at this point to pull out.
Obviously, I paid the monies due in order to run the race. The fact that I was paying so much – more than any holiday id ever been on (and I’ve been on some pretty good holidays all over the world) – would always be a bitter pill to swallow.
But, I had to swallow it. So I did (washed down with some electrolytes and a swish of coconut water around the 10th mile of a tempo run, or something like that).
‘Inspired Adventures’ actual name was somewhat misleading as well – it wasn’t just their business ethic and their relationship with ‘charities’ and ‘charitable’ organisations. I think firstly, the main source of ‘inspiration’ for all parties, was cash money. For Inspired, because they stood to raise so much of it (offering barely anything in return); and for me, because I’d need a healthy sum of cash, in order to run the race.
The ‘adventure’ part left even more to be desired. – Not only did they provide precise instructions on what to do, where to go, and how to behave in New York City during the only 5 nights you’d have stayed there had you have only come for the nights you booked at the hotel (anyone feel like running a marathon with jetlag? – Anyone?) – (Including advice on tipping) – they even offered to show you around the city, for a fee (of course), if you couldn’t find your way yourself. Very adventurous. – I was lucky I had my own tourguide(s) – one of them a true gift.
On raceday, any potentially exaggerated or false prejudices towards Inspired were proven justified:
As everyone shuffled into the lobby, clad in running gear, a muted early-morning excitement in the yellow-white fluro-lit glare, an ‘inspired’ travelling fit representative made a fuss getting us all to gather around for a photo. For their website – yes, of course. It’s only fair, right? But that was it. There was no ‘inspired’ speech, no ‘inspired’ thankyou .. Surely she’s going to say something, I thought.
Under further instruction, we started to file out the hotel door, into the cold dawn air. There was no time to shield yourself against it. We were asked, dutifully, to present our wristbands upon exiting the building, in order to validate that we were legitimate travelers on the outside waiting buses (transport to the starting line just one of the vast number of inclusions for the millions of dollars id now spent to get here). I barely even got a ‘good luck’..
Once on the buses, once the bus was full, surely that was an ‘inspired’ moment to jump aboard, wish us well, and maybe say thanks for all the hard work done, money spent and donations made. But with a stiff breeze bending the trees and flexing the street-signs outside (a breeze we’d soon be fully exposed to for the start and most of the 26 miles ahead), and the dank weird fumey/body-odoury smell of the bus inside, the doors hissed closed at the curb, and the driver was checking his shoulder to begin pulling away. – Nothing!
I turned around, half-expecting to see an ‘inspired’ sign saying ‘Thanks you schmucks, we’ve got your money, good luck getting back here on foot!’ .. – Well I didn’t really, but you know what I mean. Now that I recall this moment though, if I had have turned around, I’m sure that’s what I would have seen. – Or something to that effect.
I kind of smirked to myself, not surprised, my suspicions about this ‘fitness adventure’ all but completely confirmed. I’d been ripped off…
It was almost 5 weeks until I got an email from travelling fit, post marathon. Although I would have expected a standardized, template-format email from them saying ‘thankyou’ and ‘well done’ just days or even a week after, the surprise of receiving a standardized, template-format email so late was not lost on me. – Truly unprofessional and impersonal to the end (perhaps a new slogan)?
By this stage, I had already signed up to enter the London Marathon (to be run on April 26, 2015), and had become pleasantly surprised at how different this experience was already panning out to be. Entering marathons is surely not easy. With so many people vying for a spot, I’m sure the pitching process is a competitive one.
Rainforest UK however, have guaranteed me entry into the race, at the cost of £180. Should I choose to swim to the UK, and sleep on the streets during my time there, £180 is all it might cost me to run in London this year (not forgetting I do have to make an effort to raise money on top of this – which obviously is of minimal personal cost). – There are no musts or ‘have to’s’ when it comes to where you stay and how you get there, as opposed to my experience with travelling fit, inspired adventures and Oxfam
This is in stark contrast to the $5000+ I was expected to pay to run for Oxfam Australia through Inspired Adventures – a sum that, might I remind you, had to be paid, or ‘I would miss out’ (a bit aggressive, but their words).
Rainforest UK have also been far more helpful and engaging with this process, going out of their way to personally contact me multiple times, and not just with some kind of forced friendliness or gratitude – which was the only experience I had from Oxfam and Inspired.
(Usually before an Epilogue) *see editor’s notes
Fundamentally, and although my main aim was to run a fast marathon (a feat which I didn’t manage due to various factors), taking on a challenge like this must pose the question of ‘who do you support?’ So here’s what I learnt:
Charities like Oxfam operate at a corporate, money-centric level. Their huge campaigns, and the shiny billboards and advertisements that accompany them – like anything with money as its core value – are their key focus, it is unquestionable. They would argue however, that creating this kind of ‘public awareness’ is very important for the plight of those who they are trying to help/support, and sure, it is.
Organisations like Rainforest UK are ‘grassroots’. – They operate at a true ‘not for profit’ level (Oxfam and other organisations like them are a ‘charity’, which doesn’t mean they’re exempt from profiting), and it is imperative that their resources, time and money are used in the most frugal and wisest of ways, or the efforts they’re making for their cause might well be in vain or, as was the case in my experience (above), my money would be misused. Seemingly. (Over $4000 for a 5 night stay in an average NYC hotel, for example) …
When you choose to support a charity, an NGO or a similar organisation, you have to ask the question: Where is my money actually going? What sort of cause am I supporting, and how do they engage with the communities/people they propose to support? Is this their main objective? And if not, how does that affect my own decision to support them with cash ive accrued?
And while I am forever thankful and indebted to those who helped me raise over $5000 for Oxfam Australia during my marathon campaign – and I cant thank everyone enough – you know who you are – it seems that clicking through the links, and setting up the money-channels is easy and convenient (just like I did – just like everyone who supported me did). Should ‘money’ though, be the only thing that matters?