It’s that time of year isn’t it? The time when people are planning their running adventures, entering races and for many thinking about fundraising too. Lots of runners secure themselves places in large popular races by taking up bond places for charities then work their way through lists of contacts asking for sponsorship money.
It’s a tried and tested approach and can certainly raise plenty of money, but with the popularity of big city races on the rise, in particular marathons, the chase for cold hard cash can become more and more difficult as an increasing amount of people take on the challenge.
It wasn’t too long ago that marathon running used to be the remit of the serious athlete. In fact it wasn’t until Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 that many race officials even considered women capable of running such distances. Tell that to Paula Radcliffe.
The point is that thousands of people run marathons every year. The London Marathon alone has around 35,000 entrants annually. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it does change the perception in the eyes of non-runners that it’s not as big a deal as it used to be.
This of course is wrong. Running a marathon is tough. It takes months of dedication and hard training. For most, running 26.2 miles will be the hardest thing they will ever do and nobody should ever try to downplay that achievement for anybody.
The trouble is if public perception of running the distance is skewed by the amount of people who complete it, then it makes it much harder to raise money for good causes by doing so. Many people who take up bond places for big races find themselves struggling to raise the large amounts asked for by the charities.
But has the system become a bit distorted? Because of the popularity of such events charities ask for higher commitments for bond places. Is this because they know they will be able to fill the spaces, hence set the fundraising targets higher? Is it merely a case of supply and demand?
Couple that in with the fact that some people view fundraising for bond places as merely paying for a race entry for somebody who really wants to do it but couldn’t get a regular entry and you end up in a position where raising money is getting more and more difficult.
I personally believe that charity is a very important part of a civilised society and it is, in some small part, a responsibility of all of us to help those less fortunate than ourselves, no matter how little we have ourselves. Compassion is a strong human emotion that should never be ignored or pushed aside.
So the big question really needs to be, how do you raise money for good causes, through running, when the social environment is such that people aren’t climbing over themselves to give you their money and when more people are asking? Gone are the times when a small article in the local paper, complete with smiling runner in full charity gear, really garners any financial interest.
It’s a good question and one without a particularly easy answer. But what strikes me is that no idea is too stupid. It really isn’t. Don’t just trawl your address book and ask people for their money. Think outside the box people commonly say, but how about forgetting there even was a box?
If you come up with an idea that you think is worthwhile then the chances are so will somebody else. No matter how small or how out there, any spark of an idea you have to raise money can work.
Of course, nobody really likes giving away money for nothing. Sure, people know that charity is a good cause, but in reality it takes something close to home to make one good cause more worthy than another. That is a sad fact of reality.
So why not work around that by giving somebody something for their money? Don’t just ask them for cash for nothing but their altruism, rather offer them something tangible in return.
Some of the most successful fundraising I’ve seen in recent times has been from raffles, cake sales (who doesn’t love a cake?) or events. These all offer people something for their money yet at the same time still make a profit for good.
Back at the tail end of 2014 I had an idea. It was a thought that had been buzzing around in the back of my head and I wasn’t able to shift it. One morning, over breakfast I conceded that it was an idea that I needed to do something about. That idea was for an event called RunSpark.
The idea had come along following some talks I’d just done at The Running and Endurance Sport Show at Sandown Park. It struck me talking to people that so much of running, particularly ultra distances, is a confidence trick. People enjoyed hearing the story and feeling inspired by what I myself – a very average runner – had achieved with that confidence.
So the first remit in my head behind RunSpark was to spread that message to as many runners as I could. To instil in them that they can be more and that they can do more. I decided that a good way to do this was to hold an event where a few different speakers would talk and impress upon the audience how the things that they had done really were achievable by all of us.
The second purpose for the evening was to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. My own journey to ultra running was taken following a friend’s diagnosis with terminal cancer and Macmillan have played a part in that journey with me and continue to do so.
What started out as a spark of an idea to help motivate other runners and raise a few pounds for a great cause soon became an all-encompassing entity which filled my time. This isn’t because such an event needs such full-time attention, but rather more of a reflection of my anal attention to detail.
The idea grew. Within a week or so I had managed to persuade Shona Thomson and James Adams to come to Bristol to talk and I had managed to persuade enough companies to give me some of their hard earned cash to pay the bills for the night. What I think is often forgotten is that you do need to spend money to make money. The generosity of Ellis-Brigham, Tangent Books, London & Country Mortgages and Deka combined meant that I could put on a first class event and feel confident in charging good money for tickets.
To further bolster the fundraising I continued to ask companies and individuals if they could provide us with products or services which could be raffled off. I spoke to dozens and dozens of companies, many of whom were not interested or unable to support RunSpark. That’s fine. You have to accept that everybody has their own reasons for becoming part of something or not. Keep a positive attitude and keep working forward.
As the event began to come together, tickets started selling quickly and raffle ticket sales started to rise, it became apparent that the event was going to raise a healthy chunk of money for Macmillan.
In the back of my head I had hoped, at best, to maybe raise £2000. That would be incredible and well worth all the effort, but as the tickets continued to sell and more and more people started to get involved offering products and services to raffle off, it became clear that I had created a giant.
I’m not going to go into the event in fine detail, but I will say that come the night we had a packed room full of keen listeners, three speakers, goody bags for everyone and over £3500 worth of stuff to raffle off.
The evening went off without a hitch and everyone who I spoke to and who contacted me after the event had only positive things to say. It had truly been worth all the effort, late nights and hard work.
Once I sat down and totted up all the totals we had actually raised a staggering £3621.65. All that from just one evening. I was astounded and proud of what had become of that spark of an idea.
The following week I had the great honour of being the guest speaker at the Macmillan Regional Fundraisers Conference in Manchester and was able to break the good news of the fundraising to the room of 200 or so people who’s job it is to help raise money for the charity. Their responses said it all and made it all worthwhile.
I guess the point to this long and rambling post is that never dismiss any fundraising idea, however daft you think it might be. No matter how small or how wild, that spark of an idea you have could turn into something magical and grow to affect many people. Unless you try it you just don’t know.
I would like to say thanks to so many people for helping me make RunSpark a great event. From Steve, Jon and Rudi who helped on the night, to Shona and James who gave up their time to come and speak, right through to all the fantastic sponsors – all of whom can be viewed on the RunSpark website.
But more than any of them, the people who bought into my spark of an idea and actually paid good hard cash to come and spend the night in a room in Bristol listen to three people talk about their running exploits. Without them we would have nothing. Thanks to everyone.
RunSpark 2016? Who knows.
A full set of images from RunSpark can be found on the Fat Man to Green Man Facebook page.