To run or not to run for charity

To run or not to run for charity

Yesterday was the day – the lottery drawing for the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Runners like me without a (recent) qualifying time or legacy, either get in through the lottery or run for charity. When I wrote in my journal yesterday morning what I was looking forward to, this was it. “No matter what the outcome,” I told myself.

A few people posted their notifications on social media pretty early in the morning. I checked my email. Nothing. Had the credit card been charged? No. Not yet. As lunch time approached a few more people posted their good news and I obsessively checked my email one more time. I told myself to be patient.

Finally, at 12:34pm the email I had been waiting for arrived, but not with the news I wanted: “We regret to inform you…” Although I had prepared myself and had planned all along to run for charity as my Plan B, I was really, really disappointed.  It took me all afternoon and into the evening to process my grief over this (ridiculous) loss. Now I look back on the day and it seems so silly and trivial that should feel that way.


But here’s the deal. I already felt like I earned this spot. No, I didn’t have legacy. I hadn’t run the Chicago Marathon five times already and I haven’t run at least four Shamrock Shuffle 8ks, although I am signed up for the 2019 event. I JUST MOVED HERE! I have run two marathons in under the 4:15 qualifying time since I turned 50, just not since January. I have also already raised a sh*t ton of money for charity – when it wasn’t required.

I was accepted into the 1997 New York City Marathon (my first) through the lottery and raised over $3,000 for United Way anyway. In 2005, I was also a lottery winner for New York City and raised over $60,000 for Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey. When I ran Chicago three years ago, I made it in on my first attempt at the lottery, and still raised almost $6,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. All and all, in the last 22 years running, I have raised closed to $100,000, only about $5,000 of which was to gain entry for an otherwise sold out event.

This year, I really didn’t want the pressure of having to fundraise. My goal in running this race is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I wanted to focus on that – just that. I probably would have fundraised (it’s kind of in my DNA), although without the pressure of having a goal to meet. I was very reluctant to sign up and be responsible for the fundraising commitment. Typically, by the deadline, the balance of what you don’t raise either has to come out of your own pocket, or your forfeit your spot.

“Can I donate it all myself?” is a question I always advise athletes to ask themselves when making the decision to run on a charity team. If the answer is no, then you have to ask yourself if you’re up for the challenge?  I offer fundraising support as part of my coaching services to charity runners who train with me; being realistic about what it takes to do it successfully is part of the initial discussion. Twenty-years in fundraising wasn’t lost on me. I have lots of great ideas and knowledge of best practices that I’m happy to share. Although, like the marathon training itself, fundraising does require effort.

I really didn’t want to have to put in that extra effort this time around. Not running the 2019 Chicago Marathon simply wasn’t an option, although I toyed with that idea. I couldn’t do that though. I had already mapped out my entire race schedule and training plan for next year!  I was counting on this as my first attempt at the BQ in a new age group.

Understanding your network and their ability to support you in an effort like this is the root of designing your fundraising plan. I’m concerned right now that most of my network is in New Jersey. I have concerns that I have asked too many times. I have concerns about having to reciprocate. I have concerns about the limit to which I can give. With a daughter in college, this has been my most expensive year, and because of the transition to Illinois, even less income to off-set it.

I also have this awesome boyfriend who believes in me, keeps reminding me to believe in myself, and who also committed to helping me fundraise.  Before the day was out, Mary Sunshine had returned, and I was focused on making this happen. In addition to my marathon training, I will share my fundraising journey here too.

The charity I’ve chosen is Gilda’s Club Chicago. The organization’s CEO, LauraJane Hyde, was one of only a small handful of people I knew here before I moved. She was a peer in the Gilda’s Club Network when I was affiliated with them over 10 years ago. We always had enormous respect for one another. I have been doing some volunteer work for them for the last couple of months and was going to be working with Team Gilda anyway.

My inside knowledge of the organization as well as my family’s own struggles with social and emotional support when dealing with a cancer diagnosis should provide a compelling case for giving. The goal is $1,500. I’ve done that with my eyes.

A hot day in 2015. Cannon Drive, Chicago, Illinois.
The time I met the 41st President of the United States

The time I met the 41st President of the United States

I have talked before about growing up in a politically active family. The first rally I remember attending was for Nixon in 1968 at Fort Lee High School. I was only three and a half, but my memory of it is vivid. The future President came close enough to shake my parents’ hands and tug at my wool hat. I was wearing a “Nixon’s The One” button. Yes, back then I was a Republican.

Politics taught me that there are opposing sides and winners and losers. It was kind of like playing team sports, but the consequences much more serious.  I learned about ideology and how one’s beliefs fueled who they supported or with what political party they choose to align themselves. We had friends and relatives from both parties. That led to some heated debates at social gatherings, but it never ended relationships.

Waiting for Republican Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon. Fort Lee, New Jersey. November 1968.

I recall my parents having very emotional disagreements with elected officials during mayor and council meetings, and then shaking hands in church, lamenting about the weather, or patronizing each other’s businesses.  From where I sat, I saw a world where differences just made people interesting, not hated. And being involved in politics took me to some interesting places where I got to meet lots of interesting people. On the national scene, in addition to Richard Nixon, that included Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, and Ronald Reagan (I had to Google it, but yes, Bob Dole is still alive).

Not long after I graduated from college, my political views began to change, and I also decided to be a little more low-key in my activism. In my 30s I served my community through the non-profit sector as Vice President of Bergen County’s United Way.  In that roll, I continued to meet lots of interesting people. In March 2002, that included Former President George H.W. Bush.

The Northern New Jersey Business Volunteer Council, in which I was involved, was honored as a Point of Light at a luncheon in New York City. President Bush was the keynote speaker. Because I had met all of the earlier Republican presidents in my lifetime, I thought I had to seize this opportunity.  This was just six months after 9-11, so security was heightened. The former president was behind the head table, which sat on a low riser in the front of the Marriott Marque’s ballroom (which, by the way, can hold 2400 people for a sit-down lunch). Secret Service blocked every path to him.

While everyone was taking their seats, before the program was to begin, there was a lot of milling around. I was seated at a table with my boss, who had always said that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. With that in mind, I took a deep breath and just walked up to the head table, around the big, burly, scary Secret Service Agents, acting like I was supposed to be there, and found myself standing alongside George H.W. Bush.

There I stood patiently waiting for him to finish his conversation with another man – just like you would for anyone you were trying to network with at a luncheon. Mr. Bush noticed me and said hello. I told him who I was and why I was there and how much I appreciated what he created with the Points of Light Foundation. He was charming and gracious. And tall. That was my immediate reaction to seeing him in person. He was taller than I thought he would be.

He saw my camera and asked the man he had been speaking with to take our picture. He then told me to send him a copy of the photo so he could sign it and send it back. That photo and the letter that accompanied it, is framed and proudly displayed in my home office. I had a copy of the photo printed for my dad too and he had it framed on display in his home office as well.

Of course, I never told President Bush (or my dad) that I only voted for him once.  Because I didn’t support his bid for re-election, didn’t mean I didn’t support all the good he had done since. Politics isn’t what it used to be. There was a time when you felt that even when people didn’t agree on how to solve problems, at the heart of their solutions was the desire to do what they thought was best for America.

Rest in peace Mr. Bush.

The photo and the letter as seen on my office wall. Chicago, Illinois. December 2018.
4 things I learned from having cancer

4 things I learned from having cancer

Last night I had the honor of being the speaker at our High School’s Relay for Life Kick Off event. Our high school and many organizations in town have been participating in Relay for Life since 2009 and have raise over $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society.

This is what I shared… Read more

Why it’s important to be involved

Why it’s important to be involved

Sunday I volunteered at the Mile 21 Fluid Station for the New York City Marathon. Today, I’m crossing another finish line of sorts. It’s Election Day and I’ve been “training” since June; since two women I met last spring became candidates for borough council in my little northern New Jersey town. Read more

What it means to be an Active Community Investor

What it means to be an Active Community Investor

When I was working for United Way at the beginning of my non-profit career 20 years ago, I first heard the term “Active Community Investor.” While anyone can be a potential donor to charity, these Active Community Investors were the people who were deemed to be our best prospects. They were the people who were already donating their time. They were the volunteer little league coaches, scout leaders, volunteer fireman, and PTA members. They were the people who attended town council meetings, ran races or did walks for charity, or were actively involved in their house of worship.

We should all be Active Community Investors, but sadly this group is probably the minority. But it’s never too late to become one. There are opportunities all around us. If we dare to complain about anything, we are part of the problem if we are not actively part of a solution. I’ve put together a list of where you can start with the easiest to those that take a great deal of commitment. (Also read what I wrote last year about volunteering, here).

Vote. This is by far the easiest way to make your voice heard and engage in your community. Here in New Jersey we have a new Governor to elect on November 7 as well as State Legislators. In my town there is a heated race for two council seats. There are a lot of people with something to say, but about 30% of registered voters in town didn’t vote in last year’s presidential election. This year’s turnout is likely to be a lot less.

Donate. You do not have to be rich to make a donation to a charity or political campaign. $25. $10. $5. These amounts when combined with the small contributions of others add up and can be very impactful. Even my teenage daughter with the income of a part-time job made a small recurring monthly donation to a presidential candidate last year. So the next time you get an email from your cousin asking to support her run or walk, click on the donate button. It will make you feel good and make your cousin feel even better about you. If you’re happy your neighbor decided to run for office to do something about all that’s wrong in town, at the very least, make a donation to show your support.

Just Help. You do not need to be a full-blown volunteer who makes a commitment over the course of months or years and spends hours sitting in meetings to make a difference. Some people have constraints on their time that others do not. Figure out what you can do. Can you just pick up a store bought item for the school bake sale? Maybe volunteer to bring the juice boxes to the soccer game? When my daughter was in elementary and middle school I worked full-time, and spent over two hours everyday commuting. But when I saw a break between positions, I quickly committed to taking on the role of Girl Scout Cookie mom. When the call went out for chaperones for Teen Canteen at the Middle School, I sucked it up and gave up my Friday night.

Volunteer. Every non-profit organization, youth sports team, school, municipality, and special event relies on volunteer time. And it’s always the same people. I was at a meeting for my daughter’s high school Graduation Gala committee a few days ago when one of the moms noted that all the people in the room were most of the same people we’ve been seeing since kindergarten. She was my daughter’s soccer coach in 2010. The chair of the committee and the treasurer were my daughter’s Brownie Girl Scout Troop leaders. And looking around the room I saw lots of familiar faces, fellow chaperones from Teen Canteen and a woman with whom I remember working the snack stand at the park. There were about 50 people in the room, from a pool of close to 400 senior parents. If you are one of the parents who think you can continue to sit things out while your child reaps the benefits, or a citizen that wonders why your candidate didn’t get elected when you didn’t do anything, please reconsider. Your community needs you. Please think about what you can do to personally contribute your time (at the very least see #3).

Serve on a Board. Serving on a board (or even chairing a committee) is volunteering at a higher level. All of the organizations that rely on volunteers also need leaders. This is a time commitment and therefore you need to be involved with an organization that is personally fulfilling and honors your values. I have served on two non-profit boards for over the last 5 years, and have served on running club boards. These are meaningful to me, utilize my skills, and require a time commitment that is manageable. You don’t have to say yes to everything. But do strongly consider the things that are a good fit.

Run for Office. This takes an enormous amount of commitment, as well as courage. Our towns, cities, states, and country cannot function without our elected officials. And we need good elected officials, but most people would never think of running for office. It’s a big commitment of time; it’s a lot of responsibility. Plus we hear our neighbors complain and criticize and most people don’t want to be in the line of fire. As I’ve seen the local Council race heat up, I’ve heard about candidates getting harassing messages from citizens, citizens who chose not to run themselves.

The bottom line is, do something! Set a good example for your children and if you don’t like what’s happening, act. Even if your child is a senior and you’ve never volunteered at any school function, the Graduation Gala committee can still use your help. Even if you’ve never been “political” if there’s a candidate that you really like, they can use your time too. Both of my parents were Active Community Investors (I wrote about them here and here). I’m an Active Community Investor because they were. Although my daughter seems to be annoyed by even my attendance at Back-to-School night, I still know she’s watching. Ultimately, being an Active Community Investor is personally fulfilling and as the kids begin to live their own lives and you have more time, being actively invested in one’s community is a the perfect way to honor your values and fulfill your life’s purpose. There is a community investment opportunity for every area of interest.

Ramsey High School. Ramsey, New Jersey. October 2017