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In which Wei-Hwa rails against the irrationality of athletic pledges by providing an unorthodox pled [Dec. 5th, 2012|01:16 am]
So my personal trainer is doing a "push-ups for Hurricane Sandy relief" fundraising thing at her company. The idea is that each of the trainers pledge to do a certain number of push-ups next Monday (my trainer went for 400). They try to get people to pledge them money to do this, either unconditionally or to be given if they match their push-up goal.

Now, I've never personally understood the reason behind athletic-driven fundraisers. Any time I get approached with something like this, it's always from someone who already is inclined to do something athletic. They are almost certainly going to do their athletic goal *anyway* regardless of how much they actually raise. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say something like "Well, I only reached $500 of my $1000 goal for breast-cancer research, so I guess I'll only run half of the marathon and stop." And, unlike, say, a big company matching donations, the athletic achievement doesn't actually *do* anything for the charity. If the energy in those 400 push-ups were harvested and sold to some energy company with the proceeds donated to hurricane relief, well, that would at least be something. But all that is really happening is
that it's helping some athletic person get even more fit.

In a sense, they're not actually sacrificing anything, but it's coached in such a way as if you're supposed to be guilted into donating to charity. Well, I've got real guilt from not donating to charity, which I can alleviate by donating to charity, so I don't really appreciate having a middleman handing out fake guilt. I really like my trainer, but I don't like how she's part of this system that doesn't make any sense, as far as I can tell.

So, I made an unorthodox deal with my trainer. I will pledge to the cause a maximum amount of $800, to be given out like this: Start with a pot of $400. For every push-up she does on Monday (the day when all the other trainers are doing the pledge), I remove $1 from the pot. For every push-up (up to 400) she does on *Tuesday,* I add $1 to the pot. After Tuesday I'll donate whatever's in the pot. The idea here is that to earn the maximum pledge, she has to give a real sacrifice, which is that she has to endure the peer pressure of needing to explain to all the other trainers (and maybe other donators) why she isn't doing push-ups on Monday like everyone else. Or, more importantly to me, doing something that she *wasn't expecting to do*.

It will be interesting to see how much of the $800 she manages to collect for charity.

From: stigant
2012-12-05 04:57 pm (UTC)
hmmm, well, to maximize her fund raising, she has to decide if the rest of her clients, together, are going to pledge to pay her more than $1 per monday pushup. Assuming that they do, then she does 400 pushup on Monday and then another 400 on Tuesday. If not, then she should do no pushups on Monday and 400 on Tuesday. So she only has to choose between embarrassment on Monday and lower donations if she fails to raise $1/pushup from her other clients. So I guess you've provided her with an incentive to fund raise harder from her other clients.

As an additional side effect, she's going to have to do an extra 400 pushups because of your deal (assuming that her normal Tuesday wouldn't include 400 pushups). Were I a trainer put into such a position by a client, I would make sure that the client felt some extra burn during their next workout for the trouble. So I guess you might be buying extra fitness for your donation.

Two other personal notes:
I was a swimmer when I was younger and every year we had a swim-a-thon (people pledge money per lap for a max of 200 laps). I always hated that. You had to go around the neighborhood to beg for donations, THEN swim, THEN go back and collect the money again. What a waste of time. Eventually my parents realized what was going on and didn't push me to work too hard at it.

Finally, my wife and I bought furniture at Ashley Furniture a couple of weekends ago. They were running a deal where you get 17% off if you donate $17 to Sandy Relief. This was a total no brainer for us... we saved ~$500 for the cost of $17. But it seemed like a ludicrous way to raise money for charity. Spend 500 to get 17? That makes no sense at all.
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From: stigant
2012-12-05 05:11 pm (UTC)
I think there's also a psychological aspect to fund raising this way. The donor pledges a small amount per pushup (say $1), so it seems like the amount they're donating is smaller than if they had pledged one big sum (say, $200). When in reality, their donation ends up being bigger. The local NPR station, for example, uses a similar tactic when they get people to think about their donation in terms of $/month or even $/day instead of one large donation. ($1/day? I can do that... that's not even a cup of coffee). Depending on your point of view, that may make you angrier.
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[User Picture]From: magellanic
2012-12-06 04:05 am (UTC)
Let me comment about "athletic pledge drives" in general; your case may be a little different.

One aspect of the pledge is that the athlete doesn't have a specific number he or she will hit, just a goal. Maybe that goal is really high, not something trivial. Knowing that each additional push-up is $10 collectively from all donors is an incentive to drive oneself to reach that goal. The pledges are from donors, it doesn't make sense to talk about the athlete pledging some minimum level of performance. This scenario makes sense when the feat is not trivial.

Another aspect of the pledge is that the donor can feel that they're getting something in addition to their donation -- they're compelling the athlete to take on a task. This point of view is irrational but amusing to some people. It's fun when the donor can think "my $0.10/push-up made the athlete do the work." It's derogatory if the donor is compelling some humiliating activity.

Pledge drives are rarely about making personal sacrifices. They're about doing something extraordinary, above and beyond, not simply unusual, to contribute to a cause. The donor gives money, the athlete performs above their usual level. These aren't meant to be sacrifices per se.
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