How Aaron Msipha tested his body’s limits and became a charity hero
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Cape Town – Aaron Msipha believes it’s essential to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. In so doing, however, he doesn’t believe in taking the easy route.
Not only did this involve testing the limits of his body – ascending the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro – but the challenges included the intricacies of fundraising as well.
With his 30th birthday approaching, Aaron decided that he wanted to to help others and started looking for another cause to support.
During his first year of chartered accountancy articles, he and a group of colleagues had adopted a charity in the nearby town of Soshanguve, Tshwane, donating to them regularly and giving up their free time to help with administrative work.
He subsequently discovered the Imbumba Foundation, a South African non-profit aiming to bring about social change and economic upliftment in some of the country’s poorest communities.
“They told me about this programme that they run on an annual basis called Trek4Mandela. They take climbers up Kilimanjaro to the summit to raise money for sanitary pads for girls. It was then that I knew that I also wanted to do this,” says Aaron.
“After that it was a conversation about how to fundraise, and they recommended GivenGain. They had had a number of fundraisers use it before.”
The end result was: Total funds raised – R91 970; number of donations – 141; and donor countries – five.
Here Aaron shares some of the fundraising lessons he learned on the road to Kilimanjaro.
1) Challenge yourself
At 5 895 metres high, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak – and the highest free-standing mountain anywhere on Earth. Of those who try to reach the summit, less than half make it.
“I wanted to test the limits of my body,” explains Aaron. “I run, and I know that running can test what you have to give, but that’s something I have always done.
“Climbing a mountain was new. If you’re going to demand money from people, they also expect you to do something demanding. You can’t just ask.”
By putting such a big challenge at the centre of his fundraising campaign, Aaron found it much easier to connect with friends and family and convince them to donate.
Even so, you don’t necessarily need to climb a mountain to convince people to donate. Many of Aaron’s friends also supported his campaign because of their personal connection.
“A number of my friends said that they wouldn’t necessarily donate because the charity I chose didn’t really speak to the things they stand for, or because they already had charities they donate to.
’’But when I started this challenge, they donated any way because it had my face behind it. It wasn’t always necessarily about supporting the foundation itself, but about supporting me.”
2) Be persistent
Without much fundraising experience under his belt, Aaron’s first port of call was the GivenGain website to pick up some tips on getting donations.
GivenGain provides a lot of support for both first-time and experienced fundraisers, including starter packs for event participants, regular fundraising tip e-mails and the GivenGain blog. For Aaron, the biggest takeaway was that he should ask for donations – and then keep asking.
“GivenGain had really helpful advice online about how to promote projects,” says Aaron.
“I think what is most important is the updates – people constantly have to be reminded of what you’re doing. Social media provides a good platform for that.”
Because Aaron had planned his fundraising climb so far in advance, he had most of a year to build a following and get the word out about his project – and once again, he found a way to use his passion for the outdoors to make an impact.
“Every month I’d go hiking somewhere, and afterwards I’d post photos of the hike on my social media,” he explains.
“I saw so much of South Africa. I went to Plett, I went to the Drakensberg. Each time I’d remind people that this isn’t just a regular hike, it’s a practice hike for a bigger hike coming later in the year – and that hike is for my charity campaign.”
Aaron’s constant reminders didn’t just convince people to donate to his fundraiser, it got them personally invested in his campaign. Soon, they started spreading the word all by themselves, and his campaign snowballed.
“People would come out of nowhere randomly and ask me ‘what’s happening, how’s training? Can I join you on the next hike?’,” he recalls.
“People really connect. I had a number of friends who started sharing my story with their colleagues, and then they also started donating. I even had people approach me and tell me that they wanted to do a similar thing with a charity. It was a chain reaction.”
3) Ask everyone
Aaron didn’t only reach out to friends and family, he also asked for support for his project at work. Corporate sponsorship can be one of the best sources of support for fundraisers.
Companies are often keen to make a positive social impact, and some even offer programmes such as additional leave to pursue volunteering opportunities.
“I approached HR at work and we did an e-mail in-house that was sent to everyone at the company. The running club at work adopted my project as well, so when they went on runs there were banners promoting it,” says Aaron.
“We even had a pad drive in-house. We put a huge box at the entrance to the building with my photo and some details about my project and people could donate pads. After I got back from Kili, I took the box to Imbumba.”
In the end, Aaron’s project received plenty of support from businesses. “The corporates really did come through with big donations,” he says.
Reaching the peak
Aaron set out on his Trek4Mandela expedition in July 2019 and on 18 July – Nelson Mandela Day – he made it to the summit.
Thanks to his hard work and the generosity of his supporters, he had raised more than R91 000 for the Imbumba Foundation through GivenGain, more than anyone else on the trek.
“Summitting Kilimanjaro was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he says. “But there’s part of me that wants to go back, to experience the beauty of being on top of the mountain again.”
While the climb was tough, Aaron says that fundraising for the first time was pretty easy thanks to GivenGain.
“It’s not a difficult platform to use, it’s quite intuitive,” says Aaron. “I didn’t have any struggles signing up or starting my project, and I was able to draw inspiration from other fundraisers on the platform.”
“The whole process of raising funds became my highlight of the year. Whenever I look back on 2019, I think of Kilimanjaro and my preparations for Kilimanjaro, and I think of the fundraising. I’ll definitely do it again next year.”