A war game is making summer camp possible

Aaron Newlands (left) says that old fundraising events, such as dinners and door-to-door chocolate sales, just aren't motivating people to donate the way they used to.

Picture a room full of men, most in their teens and early 20s, but some into their 30s and 40s, hunched over, two to a table. The tables are battlefields, and the players are moving and firing hand-painted soldiers, creatures, and vehicles of war.

They’re playing in a universe set in the 41st millennium, acting out planned missions to crush each others’ armies and claim victory – just before their feast of pizza and pop arrives.

This scenario may be the new face of fundraising. The charity Malvern Rouge Valley
Youth Services introduced the idea of a Warhammer 40,000 tournament as its 2008 fundraising initiative to raise funds for their Infinity Day Camp.

Aaron Newlands, director of special activities and media, came up with this innovative idea.

“Some of my friends say I’m a genius, others say I’m a lunatic,” says Newlands.

Charities, especially small ones, are increasingly facing difficulties in getting people to donate, he says. People need to budget just to put food on the table and it’s becoming hard for them to spare those extra donation dollars.

“They think these charities are great but it’s still hard to just say to someone give me 20 bucks, give me 50 bucks, give me 100 bucks.”

Newlands has turned this daunting realization into a challenge to come up with new ways for people to get something back from donating. He believes they will be much more willing to take part in a fundraiser if they’re participating in an activity they already enjoy.

“They end up getting a day doing something they enjoy and getting that warm fuzzy feeling that the money is going to a good cause,” he says.

Malvern Rouge Valley Youth Services is both local and small, having been officially registered only since 2007. Newlands says one of the main struggles is getting dedicated volunteers.

People often have limited time they can give, and it doesn’t always coincide with when they are actually needed. Newlands also says it’s easy to swamp people, resulting in them feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and unmotivated to continue helping.

Another hurdle is trying to receive government assistance. Newlands knows there’s lots of money out there to be had, it’s just difficult for charities to get their hands on it. The government’s first motivation is always getting reelected, so they like short plans which make them look good and help them do so, he says.

“You can go to the government and have a great plan to keep kids off drugs, but if they find out the time frame is eight years and they might not be in power then, they become hesitant.”

Some companies have stepped forward and donated money, time, or elements needed, but Newlands says fundraising for charities is critical, and always the main source of financial assistance.

“Now companies are also being pragmatic, for they have to look at the situation and analyze how rich they can become if they’re giving out large amounts of money.”

Newlands says he came up with the Warhammer 40,000 idea because he himself comes from a role-playing background. Although he doesn’t personally play the game, he’s familiar with it. He’s also familiar with the staff at the local Games Workshop, a company which both manufactures and sells all Warhammer paraphernalia.

Because Newlands gives so much of his time to helping kids, he was really attracted to the staff’s level of commitment to children.

“These guys are great with kids. They’ve got some really small kids that come in and there’s no hard sale, there’s no con. They’ll spend ages helping them if they need help painting.”

Newlands says it’s crucial to keep coming up with different fundraising ideas to attract new companies to the charity.

“It becomes very easy after a while to keep falling back on the same people, and you can drain them either through funds or through their time – so you’ve got to keep balancing everything.”

Owen Curtis, manager of the Games Workshop in Scarborough Town Centre, has been playing Warhammer since 1992. He says that managing a store that produces his hobby makes working pretty darn bearable, for he spends his days building models, role playing with customers, and getting them excited about these socially interactive games.

“Aliens are besetting mankind on all sides, mankind is fighting off the bad guys, that’s your sort of stage set,” says Curtis, who will be providing the equipment for the day and basically running the tournament.

Each game will have a different mission, and Curtis says some might be capturing key objectives on the table, like in a real military campaign, such as the bridge or town hall. Or, the mission might be a simple war of attrition where one player has to destroy more enemy forces than the other.

Curtis explains that because of the variety of different missions, players need to meet at the table prepared for the unexpected with a versatile collection of soldiers

“When you play a game of chess it’s always the same mission: capture the king. In our game it’s not always the same mission so you can’t always come with the same strategy.”

Curtis says the mix of players is quite interesting. The new bloods to the hobby are typically guys from 10 to 20 years old, but because the game has been in existence since
1975 there are players upwards of 60. He feels the target audience shouldn’t be younger than 14, because he wants to see love and care shown towards the models and he feels a less mature client might not do so.

While everyday playing attracts all ages, Curtis says tournaments differ.

“I would say our average tournament player is closer to 25. They were probably in it as teenagers, they’ve been collecting for a while and now they have a big collection and they either want to show it off or show they have the skills.”

At the end of tournament day players will be awarded certificates based on most wins, best sportsmanship, and the impressiveness in which they’ve built and painted their models. Newlands says extra categories have been added for those players whose skill levels haven’t exactly peaked yet. The two feel-good categories are the most brilliant plan that goes completely astray, and the most spectacular death.

If the donators enjoy themselves, ultimately the children of Malvern will benefit. Malvern
Rouge Valley Youth Services has been aiming to keep the kids of Malvern out of gangs and focused on education. Newlands says children can often feel trapped in a bad family situation and be persuaded by gangs to join a second family, but with the right tools they learn to focus and choose a different path for themselves.

Services are set up, such as the Infinity Day Camp, to reach children through activity and keep them busy.

“The camp aims at leadership and each week there is a different theme such as listening, cooperation, and teamwork,” Newlands says. “We try to get these kids to start working together.”

The tournament is going to cost the 16 participants involved $40 each to enter, with all proceeds going towards different aspects of running the camp. Newlands and Curtis hope the first tournament day runs smoothly and they can continue the tournaments every two or three months, each time growing in size and ultimately profits for the charity.