Cause-running: Is it for you?


The blog is a day late this week because I just got back from a long weekend destination race…the 20th Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. It was a little warmer at race time that I would have preferred, but it was a nice race in a spectacular locale…and no snow! I didn’t run this race for charity, but there were many who did. The event’s official charity was Free Wheelchair Mission (“Transforming lives through the gift of mobility”). An announcement was made at the start of the race that the biggest individual fundraiser running raised over $10,000 for the cause.  So let’s explore “cause-running.”

Bruce Cleland, the father of a Leukemia survivor, formed a team of 38 people to train and run the 1988 New York City Marathon. In the process, Cleland’s “team” raised $322,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Team In Training was born. The program reached national significance in less than 10 years. By 2001, the organization’s top three fundraisers were Team in Training events raising a total of $26.1 million. It’s estimated that in its first 25 years, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society raised a total of $875 million with the TNT program.

But they’re not the only ones. Many charities big and small have been able to capitalize on this grassroots fundraising movement. In 2015, New York City Marathon participants raised (according to CrowdRise) $19,605,126 for 317 charities.

“[Charity running] is the ultimate win-win,” says Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski. Charities develop a revenue stream and increase their public visibility. Their training programs and cheering sections provide support for runners, many of whom never would have attempted a marathon (or half-marathon) without the pull of doing something for the greater good. And the charity partnerships strengthen the race’s relationship with the community. (Runner’s World, July 2013)

“Cause-running” serves to create an outlet for any supporter to take control of their health and in the process provide needed assistance to those who can’t. Athletes are trained according to their fitness level to run marathons and half marathons (and other endurance events). In exchange for the training, event entry and other perks (sometimes including transportation and lodging), the athlete agrees to raise a certain amount of money for the charity.

The appeal of these types of fundraisers for the non-profit is the cost is far less than traditional fundraising events while also serving as a high-level awareness tool. Plus these types of events are not limited to elite donors with disposable income. Participants ask friends, family and co-workers to pledge or sponsor them, thus making them ambassadors for the cause. Now social media is extending their reach even further.

Besides the training, perks, and the good feeling that comes along with raising money for an important mission, cause-running has also become a way for runners to earn a coveted spot in a sold out race, or, as in the case of the Boston Marathon that limits participation with qualifying times, it may be the only way for some to gain entry.

So how does your organization get involved? First invite supporters to run a marathon (or half marathon). An organization I worked with recently did this through the Young Professionals group. Through them and their friends a team of seven was recruited to run two marathons, the New York City Marathon and the New Jersey Marathon the following spring. No minimum fundraising amount was required that first year, but participants also had to secure their own race entries. They received really nice technical singlets with the team name, and a cheering section was provided. It started small and then an application was submitted to be a charity partner for the New York City Marathon the following year. For information on the NYC Marathon Charity Partner Program, go to

Non-profits doing this type of fundraising successfully have made the investment in database software that allows individual participants to create fundraising pages with the look and feel of your organization’s web site. Organization’s just starting out or experimenting in this area should look at Crowdrise. It is a great vehicle through which you can build an event and form a team. For runners wishing to raise money for a cause that does not have a formal “cause-running” program, Crowdrise can be the vehicle through which you can do it without requiring their help. I have set up Crowdrise pages several times when I was fundraising for small organizations without anything structured, or when I didn’t want to sign up for the formal program and commit to a specific fundraising goal.

I will from time-to-time share information about organizations that engage in this type of fundraising; how they succeed, what differentiates them from other “cause-running” programs, and what lessons they can teach us. First up next week will be Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy’s Run for Our Sons program.

IMG_3223Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, February 2016


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