I received a message recently that the went something like this: “The Cancer Society came up on my FaceBook feed looking for people to run the London Marathon and raise money for them. Do you think I should do it?” It was followed by a passionate case of why this was a great cause, how it personally touched her family, and so on. And then, the admission: “fundraising is completely out of my comfort zone.” My immediate response was “yes! do it!”
There are two reasons I encourage marathoners to run for charity. Number one is that the charity benefits from the funds raised, and also because you share their message with your family and friends. Personal testimonials of your involvement with them are powerful marketing tools. The second reason is that you benefit. While running for a charity makes you feel damn good, it also comes with perks.
Many charitable organizations offer guaranteed entry, training plans, coaching and organized group runs. Many offer opportunities to participate in races for which it’s hard to gain entry. All offer something bigger than you in the populations they serve. Raising money for a cause also gives you an excuse to tell everyone you know that you are planning to run a marathon in a way that doesn’t sound self-serving.
So yeah, do it! But how do you go from “fundraising is completely out of my comfort zone” to successful fundraiser and marathon finisher?
- Understand the commitment. Before agreeing to raise money for an organization make sure you understand what they are expecting from you. Charities that are providing you with a spot in a sold out or hard to get into race, often have high fundraising goals. Many also require a credit card up front and will charge you for the balance if you don’t reach your goal by the deadline.
- Choose a charity that you can be passionate about. You can’t successfully raise money for an organization you know nothing about. So before announcing your fundraiser to the world know everything you can about the organization. If you don’t know much about them, visit the website, sure, but also consider taking a tour to get a real feel for what they do. If you have some personal experience either as a client or volunteer that will be a huge plus. At the very least make sure the organization’s mission aligns with your values and is something you can share with excitement and conviction.
- Give yourself plenty of time. You can’t raise $5,000 (or $2,500 or $1,500) over night. Start your fundraising at least four months in advance; six months is even better. Starting your fundraising at the same time you start formal marathon training is a good plan.
- Have a plan. Just like any project, a personal fundraiser like this requires planning (read what I wrote about the importance of having a plan). Who are you going to ask? How are your going to ask them? When? Create a list of all the groups of people you know – family, friends, work colleagues, classmates, social media and various community connections – and note the best ways to reach them (email, letter, social media, phone call).
- Create a Case for Giving. Most importantly, what are your going to say? Why should they give to your cause? What is the story you want to tell? Why is this cause important to you and why should they care? What’s in it for them? Use some of the facts from the organization’s website, but make sure this is personal. Most organizations with formal marathon training programs will provide you with something, still personalize it!
- Ask! You’ve spent time writing a moving case of why you are passionate about your cause and why they should be too. Share it! Don’t be shy. If you’ve followed steps 1-5, this part shouldn’t be difficult or uncomfortable. The one thing I learned as a professional fundraiser for 20 years is that people like to give. It makes them feel good. By asking them to give to your cause, you are giving them an opportunity to make a difference, to show they support you, and to feel good.
- Keep up with your training. You want to make sure you get to the start line and deliver on your end of the promise, so make sure you’re following your training plan and taking care of yourself (read my tips for first-time marathoners). If the charity you’re running for has formal group runs, consider joining them. The camaraderie can be motivating. Certainly take advantage of any coaching they may offer.
- Ask again. If someone says no, that’s fine. Thank them anyway and move on, but most of our asks are through e-mail or social media and people might miss them the first time. So send them again…and again. A great way to stay in front of people is to provide updates on your training and then just tack on a reminder about the fundraiser with a link to the donation page. Keep the update short and interesting.
- Thank them! The most important part of fundraising is to thank your donors. Most organization’s fundraising pages will send donors a receipt for tax purposes that includes a thank you, but you really need to send something personal that acknowledges them, even if it’s a FaceBook post or message. I would also recommend thanking them again after the marathon and letting them know how much their support helped pull you through.
- Show up on race day. You did the training. You did the fundraising. Now actually running the marathon is the easy part. Enjoy it. Take advantage of any race-day amenities the charity is providing their runners. Be proud of what you’ve done!
Hopefully your comfort zone will be expanded. I know there was a time, for me at least, when running wasn’t even in my comfort zone!
To read more on cause running, please see these blog posts from last year:
- Corporate Cause-Running: KPMG & TNT
- Cause-Running Review: Run for Our Sons
- Cause-Running: Is it for you?
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