Why do people and organizations do this?

Over at the Washington Monthly Mark Kleiman plugs the virtues of a new organization called Shatterproof that he thinks offers a promising way of helping people overcome alcohol and other drug addictions. That’s fine. What bothers me is this:

As a fundraiser, Shatterproof is organizing a group of us to rappel from the Westin in Pasadena a week from Wednesday. If you’re one of the countless people who would love to see me break my neck, you now have a chance to contribute to the cause. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I will get to the bottom in one piece, but that’s just the risk you take.

What is the point in taking such a risk even for a good cause? I personally do not want to encourage unnecessary risky behavior and am less likely to contribute to an organization that puts people at risk, however worthy the cause. Are there people who will contribute money just because someone is risking death or serious injury?


  1. invivoMark says

    As a climber, I can tell you that rappelling is not particularly risky for someone who knows what they are doing, and is very easy to learn how to do safely. My climbing gym regularly teaches people to do it, and to my knowledge there have been no incidents or injuries from rappelling there.

    The author was hyperbolic about the risk of breaking his neck, although those who have rappelled before will tell you that it is an absolutely terrifying experience, and it is not a bad idea to have a spare change of underwear waiting for you at the bottom. 🙂

  2. Mano Singham says

    I think I just don’t understand the reasoning. I often give friends money because they are walking or running or biking in support of some cause. But I would have given them the money if they just asked me for it, if the cause was worthy. I am not sure why people feel the need to do anything at all, and the idea of taking any risks appalls me. I don’t want to feel that I am complicit in case something goes tragically wrong.

  3. says

    What is the point in taking such a risk even for a good cause?

    In fairness, if he said that he had taken out a $10m insurance policy against accidental death, and had put the organization (or whatever) in his will as the beneficiary, then I suppose having a “come root for me to fall!” party would be reasonable.

    When I was in college one of our circle of friends desperately wanted to buy a big motorcycle (we called him “Ninja Dave”) and his girlfriend agreed to it only after we put up the money to carry a $2m insurance policy on him, with her as the beneficiary for half, and the rest divided among us. Dave, of course, is still alive and well, 30 some odd years later…

    Perhaps tonight I will have some spaghetti and red wine on behalf of some organization.

  4. invivoMark says

    Rappelling for a cause is no different from running, etc., except that it is unique and therefore may receive more attention than running. It also makes more sense for a smaller number of participants.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    The sad part is when the party aspect eclipses the charity component. A local rapeling stunt is probably pretty cheap, but some charities regularly put on spectacles that are very expensive. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is one. All those pink ribbons, all those race events; it all takes money. How much of the total gets through to the purported cause? The tail wags the dog.

  6. Dunc says

    Under the tightly controlled circumstances of a typical charity event, rappelling is probably safer than walking down the stairs. (And I do mean that quite literally.) There will almost certainly be at least one entirely independent safety line as well as the main line, there will be multiple anchors, each of which you could hang a truck off, etc…

    I’ve seriously considered doing this for charity off the famous Forth Bridge in Edinburgh… But to be honest, the charity aspect would just be an excuse. Once you’ve done it enough to have proper confidence in the gear, it’s really quite fun.

  7. Pen says

    Despite his melodrama, it is probably no more risky than crossing the street. That’s a building he’s rapeling down? The people who clean the windows are held up by devices no more nor less safe than his.

  8. noastronomer says

    As invivoMark says rapelling, or abseiling, is about as non-risky a climbing activity as you are going to get. The worst that’s likely to happen if you screw it up is that you end up dangling halfway down the rope.The ‘break my neck’ routine is just hyperbole.

    As for walking/running – people do get hit by vehicles or break ankles or suffer heart attacks while doing those activities. Nothing is risk free.


  9. says

    My son did this. (“Throw J off the roof!”) I’ve forgotten what the cause was. But if you’re climbing for fun the rest of the time, why not use it to attract attention to your fund-raising? It works.

  10. wtfwhateverd00d says

    It’s quite fun and safe with proper oversight. Weather should be beautiful and Los Angeles will look stunning from the roof of the Westin.


    Safe to say most of the commenters here have enormous life experiences repelling. Mark Kleiman too as I remember.

    I am sure all will have a good time.

  11. Timothy says

    As others have mentioned, rappelling is a very safe activity. I’ve done it, and I’m a complete chicken.

    I also suspect that it is done for PR purposes. Charity runs / walks are now a dime a dozen. A rappelling event is much more likely to get media coverage.

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