Outward Bound reaches for the sky

An abseiler in red suit steps off at the top of the Empire State Building, with New York City far below.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: on May 06, 2024 in New York, New York. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Outward Bound)

Outward Bound has pulled off a world-first fundraising event that matches the ambition of the charity’s purpose.

Last week, nine years after the original event proposal, UK charity Outward Bound attracted international coverage for its fundraising abseil down the side of the Empire State Building in New York. It was the first time that the building had ever been used for abseiling.

The ambition of the fundraising event, which has raised over £2.4 million, matches the clear ambition of the charity which “is to inspire young people to believe they can achieve more than they ever thought possible”.

The story behind this monumental fundraising event

You can read the full story on UK Fundraising.

Alan Bolchover, Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications, Outward Bound Trust, explained how such a world-first took place.

At the beginning, it started with an ambitious idea and a direct approach.

“The Empire State is the most famous building in the world”, says Alan. “No organisation has ever accomplished an abseil of this scale in New York.”

So Alan sent a LinkedIn message to the owner of the Empire State building.

“He told me to go away – but I persisted”. In all, it took nine years of persistence and then planning. Part of that was due to the disruption brought by COVID, but even without that it would have taken years of persistence.

Alan said: “The challenges have been huge. Events like this are not allowed in New York City so we had to convince the City, State, NYPD, FDNY, Buildings Dept – overcoming every objection”.

He praised the authorities at the Empire State Building for their support. “They have been an incredible partner” he said.

Keeping the whole idea secret for that period was therefore a significant achievement in itself. How do you plan a world-first event, invite people to take part, fundraise, and keep it secret?

The fundraising element therefore needed to be implemented on a need-to-know basis. Alan explained:

“All participants are giving or raising money plus we are doing appeals internationally through coverage on Good Morning America and This Morning.”

To put the achievement in context, Outward Bound is not necessarily the first charity that you might imagine achieving this kind of event. As Alan says: “We are not a huge charity and are based in a village in Cumbria, North West England.

“But we have big, bold ambitions. We don’t have to be London based to inspire the world.”

Twelve people have walked on the moon. Nobody has ever rappelled the Empire State Building.
Image: The Big Rappel

The scale of the ambition for the event matches what the charity stands for and aims to achieve.

“Outward Bound stands for inspiring a generation through challenge and adventure. We want to grow and bring our vision to the world. This is the next step.

“This is what Outward Bound stands for. We want to bring our work to the world and will be seeking challenges no one has ever accomplished before. If you will it, it is no dream.”