Raising funds for charities is our £1,000,000 passion

Fund-raising is an integral part of The Keep Fit Association ethos, so we asked Lynne Dowdican, Chair, to tell us why it is so important to all their instructors and members –

“The Keep Fit Association has been a national organisation since 1956 but the adventure started long before that in the 1930’s.  Fundraising has been in our blood since the get go and we are very proud of what we achieve, whether large or small.

Community is at the heart of everything we do and we want to reach out to as many people as we can.  Raising funds for charity is an important part of bringing our community together and while our goal is to raise money, supporting a common cause, with milestones to reach as a group, is the glue that holds us together.

Our charity fundraising is second nature to us and we are very proud, as a community, to keep it that way. Since 2000 the Keep Fit Association has raised over £770,000 for charity. Add to that our massive fund-raising effort of £250,000 for the RNLI lifeboat in the late 1990s, and we have collected over £1 million for charities – and this is only the tip of the iceberg! We are still going strong and our latest fund-raising for Parkinson’sUK already exceeds £28,000.

With so many good causes needing support, it can be hard to choose a charity, but our Association is super democratic and therefore our charity choices are put to the vote.

Chosen in February at our annual meeting, representatives from across the nine regions present their ideas.  Once it has been decided which national charity will best fit our endeavours, we usually fundraise for one year. Alternating each year, the Keep Fit Association presents the funds raised at our amazing National Festival and National Championships. We would usually launch the charity initiative at our national championships, collect for the year, and then showcase the amount that we’ve collected and final figure at the following year’s Festival. Sometimes we will run a charity programme for a full two years if we want to support that charity in a more substantive way.

This does not preclude individual classes, local branches or regions also working towards their own charities in addition to the chosen national charity. For example, in the year 2019/2020, across the country we were fundraising for 51 individual charities in addition to the national Parkinson’sUK charity.

Often the charities we support are linked to our wellness aims. We want to support charities that complement the great work we do in providing healthy, holistic movement and dance. Exercise to music has been proved to add significant value to the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and we have supported both charities at the national level. Also, as our membership is predominantly female, we will often lean towards supporting charities that focus on promoting good causes for women such as Women’s Aid, Eve Appeal etc.

However, our range is very broad.  Since 2000 we have delivered over 477 different charity initiatives and supported 227 separate charities covering health, women, animals, children, homelessness, international causes . . . the list goes on. We have raised enough money to buy a guide dog named after the Keep Fit Association ‘KiFA’ and across the country we have raised just over £68,000 for local Air Ambulances alone.

Over the years one of our teachers – Vi – along with her class members in the Birmingham area, raised £61,000 for various charities.  This year we were so proud to celebrate another of our teachers who won the national firefighters charity award for volunteer fundraiser of the year – Michelle and her two Peterborough Keep Fit classes, collected over £20,000.

Teachers and participants can get involved with our fundraising once the charity has been chosen.  The message goes out across the whole membership encouraging them to support the fundraising effort, but how they want to do that is down to them. We are not prescriptive about how people should raise funds for the charities. Being trained in Laban Dance fitness our teachers are, by nature, super creative people and this shows in many of the fundraising efforts, from silent dance sessions and keep-fitathons, events such as ladies days, fashion shows and even a ’40’s Wartime Tea Party’  through to the traditional coffee mornings, raffles, sponsored walks and bake sales. It all works exceptionally well to pull the pennies in.

Our strength is in local fund raising in our 60 plus branches and nine regions. Connecting a local area, with the teachers and class members working together to raise funds for a local charity close to their hearts, creates a great social feeling in the classes. They really bond, pulling together to make a real effort for the shared enterprise.

One of our proudest moments was raising £250,000 in a single effort to help pay for a lifeboat which has already been used in over 351 incidents.  To get our name on ‘RNLB The Keep Fit Association’ we had to raise more than half the total needed. The added incentive made all the Keep Fit members and their friends and families raise money any way we could, including fun runs dressed as lifeboats and crews!

One of our teachers in Hertfordshire had a particularly creative fund-raising idea. Judy’s Bra Collection.  The bras were collected from all over the Southern Counties area and Judy sent 8,137 bras to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance charity.  Judy and other Keep Fit members also made some snazzy outfits with them, right down to a fetching clutch bag, helping to raise awareness and funds.

On the more daring side we have had many members do sponsored skydives and in 2009 North West Keep Fitters raised £3,100 for the British Heart Foundation by doing a ‘cross bay walk’ across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, led by the Queen’s Guide, Cedric Robinson.

Our top tips for other organisations who wish to start fund-raising for charities and good causes

  • Collectively decide on the charity you are all going to support. You all need to be behind the venture, so take time to pick the charity that best suits you and get everybody involved.
  • Set yourselves a target to keep you focussed and a timeframe to collect it in, otherwise there is a danger that your projects will drift. Keep the fund-raising sharp, snappy and energised.
  • Don’t immediately head for the biggest charities. Yes, they can certainly help you with fund-raising resources etc but sometimes the most valuable contributions come from helping the smaller charities local to your class. They will really appreciate that £50 or £100 you can raise and it resonates across the whole local community.
  • Once you have met your fund-raising goal strive for the next. There are always more people to help and more you can do to support good causes. The need to achieve more can help motivate and drive you and your class or organisation, keeping them eager and passionate about making a difference.
  • We didn’t let a pandemic stop us! Throughout the lockdown we have continued to raise funds. Great Keep Fit teachers are carrying on doing classes during lockdown and helping our current charity, Parkinson’sUK, at the same time. We have been delivering free classes, holding socially distance bake sales, even running online national events with the proceeds going to the charity effort. Just one of these national events raised over £7,000 in one afternoon.

Lynne tells us “We love our common purpose whether that is teaching and enjoying fantastic Keep Fit, Laban Dance Fitness or working hard to raise funds for charity. Whatever we do, the most marvellous thing is we do it together in our brilliant Keep Fit Association family.“