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Charity fundraising tips for runners

January 26, 2010

Each year thousands of runners raise millions of pounds through running races all over the world. Big races such as the Bath Half Marathon, Virgin London Marathon and Great North Run attract many first-time,  infrequent or dedicated runners spurred into action to dedicate their efforts to many different great causes. On 11 April 2010 I’m running the Paris Marathon to raise money for The Stroke Association. While I’m plugging my way to my fundraising target, I thought I’d share my fundraising experiences to help anyone else trying to achieve the same thing.

I’d rediscovered running several months before deciding to bite the bullet and run a marathon. It’s always been something I said I’d do, some it was about time I actually did something about it. A marathon is a whole lot of running, so I thought I’d take the ‘destination race’ approach to running my first, picking Paris for its dual virtues of being a beautiful city and flat. Having decided to run the big 26.2 for the first time, I thought now was an ideal point to raise sponsorship money. (Do it for the kind of races you run for fun at the weekend and it just feels like you’re asking people to pay for you to do something you’d be doing anyway. Not quite like a sponsored pub crawl, but you get the picture.)

I contacted The Stroke Association, having looked into a range of charities. They were very helpful and quickly sent me a technical top to run in, a fundraising pack and a selection of brochures explaining what they did. From then, I quickly set up a fundraising page, added all sorts of plugs for my fundraising to my blogging, added all sorts of plugs for my fundraising and blogging to my social media usage and waited for the cash to drip in.

Of course, it’s never as simple as that. I’m making progress towards my target, but below are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.

Choose a sponsorship method carefully

Knowing the service JustGiving provided, I didn’t think twice before starting a JustGiving page for my campaign. I’ve nothing against JustGiving – they have provided a very good service, and when I’ve been looking for fundraising tips even tweeted me in the direction of their runners’ blog. They are, however, a business and, as such, take a small cut of the donations.

Given a little more knowledge and time, I’d probably have chosen to start a Virgin Money Giving page instead. Although they charge charities a small percentage for donations, it works out cheaper overall. To my inexpert eyes, it looks like Virgin provides better value for the charity.

Virgin Money Giving's office
Image by HowardLake via Flickr

Not everyone’s online

It’s easy to forget that some people don’t have internet access. While this won’t stop them donating, it means you need to think about your routes to market, so to speak. So, when publicising your valiant efforts to raise money, provide people with a range of donation methods. Your charity and/or online fundraising service will advise you how best to do this.

Keep it simple

If you’re trying to be clever with your fundraising, make sure it’s clever in a really simple way. In my experience, you shouldn’t expect people to naturally click through various links to spontaneously donate to you. For example, I’ve been posting links to my JustGiving page on my Facebook updates and on the electronic noticeboard at work. Looking at my stats, this hasn’t generated a vast sea of altruistic traffic.

However, constantly repeating the message that this is something I’m doing (and trying to make it topical – I had a field day with the snow in January 2010), has raised awareness of my fundraising. It’s then been a subject of conversation, and then people have gone to donate. The key message: work the guilt.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that you shouldn’t expect people to go to any real length to donate. Once you’ve had the conversation (and even if you’ve posted the details of how to donate elsewhere that’s easily accessible), they’ll want you to send them the details. It’s easily done, but like a good salesperson, you’ve got to follow up on every lead while it’s still hot.


As you should be able to see from this site, I’ve been using blogging as a fairly large part of my fundraising. But not as large as I had hoped, interestingly. There are two key points to note here:

  1. If you want to be clever (as I did from fairly early on), you can raise money through advertising. Google AdSense can be used to place advertising on your site; when people click on the advertising, it raises a royalty for you. This can then be donated to your sponsorship fund. However, if this is what you’re planning, don’t set up a WordPress account like I did!
    Wordpress, while great for many aspects of blogging, ban advertising and the use of iFrames on their sites. That has two implications for fundraisers. Firstly, no advertising revenue stream. Secondly, the JustGiving widgets that show your progress towards your fundraising total rely on iFrames, so you’re stuck with the rather less eye-catching badge (see the nav bar on this site).
  2. If you’re planning to use a blog to update your sponsors, they’re going to need to be pretty keen to know what you’re up to. Realistically, a group email might get a more targeted response – and will certainly help you to target those people who haven’t yet donated. If you want to spice up your emails and you’re sending them from a web-based service, you might want to try something like Zemanta, which will give you context-based images to use in your emails to help you make them look more professional.
    However – and this is an important point – you should always make a big thing about the amount of effort that’s going into your fundraising. Chances are no one is doing anything too similar, and your Herculean training schedule will impress people for the lengths you’re going to in order to raise donations.

Incidentally, if you sign up to the RSS feed for this site, you will see adverts. If you click on any of these, it will earn this site revenue, which I will donate to The Stroke Association. In fact, until July 2010 (when my JustGiving page closes, three months after the Paris Marathon), I’ll match anything earned through this route. Since my employer is matching donations up to a total of £500, each click will count as four.

Press releases? Really?

The chances are that if you look up charity fundraising tips, you’ll be advised to write a press release because the local media is gagging for this kind of stuff. At one point, the local media might have fallen head over heels for this. I wrote one, slightly skeptically, but nonetheless promoting my efforts despite record-breaking low temperatures and the recession meaning that charities needed funds more now than ever. However, while the industry is going through a financial crisis, I assume the local media will only report your fundraising efforts if…

  1. You’ve got a really strong link with your charity. Supporting a cure for a condition you or a close family member has been diagnosed with? Then the local media would love to hear from you – it’s direct ’cause and effect’ reporting and makes for an emotionally engaging story. Supporting a cause you support and fortunate enough not to have any real direct need of the charity’s support? You might want to save yourself a bit of time…
  2. Promoting a fundraising event? If you’re organising an event with public ticket sales, etc., then the papers will want to know. It’s a spot of local colour, the chances are it’ll be attention-grabbing, and it adds a lighter side to the charity fundraising message.

Similarly, think about what you want the reader to do. Are you really expecting them to have an epiphany moment, sit bold upright from their paper and flash their cash for nothing in return? Or are you advertising a rollicking good night out with lashings of ginger beer, someone in a bath of beans and a hairy man getting waxed – all in return for a charity-funding ticket fee?

Make the donations you receive count

If you work for a medium or large employer, do some early investigative work into whether they will match your donations. Make sure you’re aware from the start of any conditions for your employer contributing – for example, they will probably need the charity to be registered, and they will probably need evidence of the donations. Employer contributions have two benefits:

  1. It could double the money you raise.
  2. Telling your sponsors that someone will double their money will encourage them to give that little bit more.

It almost goes without saying, but make sure that if your sponsors are UK tax payers they are aware of Gift Aid. They’ve paid their income tax – surely they want to be able to dictate where some of that money goes?

Anything else?

I’m still learning from my fundraising, so I’ll be adding to this post as and when I find something new. However, if you’ve got any tried-and-tested fundraising techniques, why not share them in the comments below? I’d like to think someone just starting their fundraising efforts could learn from the mistakes and experiences in this post and make their sponsorship-seeking all the more effective for it.

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