WELLESLEY FALLS, Mass. Every Sunday, software engineer Bob Turley and three of his friends head out for a twenty-nine mile bike ride through two neighboring communities. "It's a great way to clear your head after the work week," he says. "Of course some of these guys don't have that much to clear out anyway," he adds with a laugh.
The ride is usually uneventful except for the occasional flat tire, but this Sunday morning the group found themselves the subject of "prank" fund-raising by the We Promise Foundation. "We were riding along, minding our own business, when people started to cheer us on from the road," says Howard Kleinwort, an accountant. "They'd yell 'Do it for Jason!' or 'Do it for Courtney!' We didn't know what the hell was going on."
By the time the group reached their usual stop at the half-way point of the ride, the Bagel Barn in Sudbury, Mass., the cheering throng had increased and the cyclists accepted the unexpected congratulations of We Promise Foundation executive director Paul Sanderson. "You guys did a great job out there," he said. "When we tell the kids how much money we've raised today, let me tell you"--here Sanderson paused to choke back a sob--"there's going to be a lot of smiles in that hospital ward."
The cyclists, abashed at the thought that they had been encouraged by a charity to which they had not contributed, gave up their collective coffee and bagel money of $28.70 and received an oversized check in recognition of their donation. "I wouldn't call it highway robbery," says Ted Simons, a professor at a local college, "but it came awfully darned close."
So-called "prank" fund-raising is growing nationwide, fueled by the sometimes cut-throat competition for donations at a time when contributions to non-profits are down nationwide. "We could raffle off an expensive car like a BMW if somebody would give us one," says Allen Gibbard of Bonne Chance Hospital in Leominster, Mass., "but it's hard to find people stupid enough to let you drive off the lot with a luxury vehicle."
Many charities are turning to prank fund-raising as a result. "It's a lot cheaper than having a gala, where you have to pay for a fancy hotel ballroom," says Lisa Tuttle of Give the Kid a Break, an organization that pays to re-set broken bones that were botched in hospital emergency rooms. "We just waltzed into the Ritz last year and started auctioning things off," she notes with a laugh. "By the time the police arrived, we had raised half our annual budget!"
As for the We Promise Foundation, the group is somewhat vague about their mission and what they plan to do with the money the cadged off the unsuspecting bike riders. "As soon as we get our web site up and running and pay my salary," says executive director Sanderson, "we promise we'll think of something."
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection "The Spirit of Giving: Untrue Tales of Inspiration and Generosity."