Turkey’s burgeoning civil society remains largely detached from the public, characterized by low levels of citizen’s support as members, volunteers or donors. By taking the familiar model of fundraising through endurance sports such as running, swimming and biking, and adapting it to local customs, Adım Adım is achieving much more than leveraging resources for NGOs: they are creating a movement of role model citizens and organizations who are convinced to create social change, step by step.
The New Idea
Seeing an opportunity in the disconnect between citizens and NGOs in Turkey, Itır and Renay joined forces to build a platform that would close this gap and empower both groups to make strategic and effective interventions in solving Turkey’s urgent problems. They decided to use a model that they were familiar with from abroad, yet remained totally unknown in the Turkish context. Taking the familiar model of fundraising through endurance sports such as running, swimming and biking, and adapting it to local customs, they managed to create a movement of role model citizens and NGOs convinced to create social change. In less than 6 years, what started with 6 runners has become a 3700 member platform, attracting 34.000 individual donors to make an average of 80 USD donations, raising over 850.000-900.000 USD that gets distributed to 8 NGOs per year.
The scale Adım Adım has reached becomes even more meaningful when compared to other local initiatives: the amount of funds they raise and grant to NGOs annually equals those of the country’s leading industrialists’ foundations, while their number of volunteers and donors exceed 99% of all NGOs in Turkey. Adım Adım’s key to success has been creativity to see the potential, determination to achieve the highest standards possible in professionalism and transparency and ability to coach, motivate and mobilize both individual fundraisers and NGOs to make a difference. Adım Adım also managed to be an all-inclusive platform despite Turkey’s increasingly polarized political and civil society scene.
Turkey’s civil society organizations (CSO) have grown significantly over the last decade both in terms of quality and quantity. However, volunteering and philanthropic contributions to NGOs remain rather low (the first at 4% and latter at 10%), presenting an obstacle to further growth and impact of civil society in meeting Turkey’s ambitious democratization and development goals. As a result, CSOs remain weak as organizations as they try to carry out their programs with insufficient resources.
Engaging in sports is not widely popular in Turkey except certain types, and even those are practiced by a small percentage of the population. In general, sports is viewed as a luxury hobby for those with disposable income and extra leisure time.
On the other hand, a new group of dynamic and young urban professionals has emerged, who are also health-conscious amateur athletes wishing to “do something” to contribute to positive social change in Turkey. With the lack of means and time to devise the right strategies, they often find themselves stuck with the old fashioned charitable donations, made in-kind and directly to those in need, ameliorating the symptoms rather than intervening at the root causes of social problems.
Adım Adım brings athletes together and assists them in their preparation for sports events in return for their undertaking to raise a given amount of money for charity purposes. Athletes are also provided an infrastructure that helps them identify impactful, professional and transparent NGO projects which also takes care of the administrative issues related to fundraising and grantmaking. On the other hand, NGOs are able to publicize their work and projects, are coached to implement their project professionally and report on them transparently while also encouraged to learn from other Adım Adım beneficiaries.
What began as the mobilization of individual donors through the means of sports is becoming a civil society movement around active citizenship: individuals have started to mobilize themselves to fundraise for issues close to their hearts, be it through Adım Adım, sports or not. Istanbul’s first community foundation and women’s fund are on their way, led and inspired by people who were previously involved with Adım Adım as fundraisers and donors. Istanbul municipality has started to channel part of the funds from late entrance fees to the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon towards charities and individuals have started to establish their own Adım Adım groups across the country.
Although Adım Adım actively supports 8 organizations, Itir and Renay have also volunteered to work on one on one basis with 6 other NGOs consulting them on using charity running as a fundraising method who raised a total of 100,000 USD as a result of their joined efforts. They have also given over 50 talks at NGOs, companies, universities, high schools and associations on fundraising though endurance sports. In the near future, they plan to carry the Adım Adım structure online which would make participation an automated process for individuals and NGOs, significantly expanding their reach.
Itır and Renay have both spent a large part of their lives abroad and resettled in their hometown Istanbul in the last decade. Itır, a young and bright academic who can often be found using her university’s facilities to launch her next social project, doing research, teaching and publishing on human rights, gender issues and social entrepreneurship in Turkey, and Renay, a successful business development professional and now a serial entrepreneur, crossed paths through their mutual passion: running and empowering civil society. Reminiscing over their experiences settling back in Turkey, they decided to start fundraising for an NGO in the next possible opportunity. Seeing the success and support of their close ones, they set down in endless workshops to developed the idea, principles and mechanism behind the Adım Adım platform that would attract more people to join the cause. Today Itır is more involved with PR, communication and community building activities between athletes, donors and NGOs, while Renay focuses on organizational development, impact measurement and corporate relations.