Let’s Talk Marathons | npENGAGE

Let’s Talk Marathons

By on Feb 5, 2011


A few weeks ago, I read a blog post about why marathon runners are effective fundraisers.  As someone who used to manage a marathon program for a non-profit organization, I thought a very important point was left out.  Marathoners are effective fundraisers because they have to be, they need to raise a certain amount to participate.

After thinking more about the blog post, I wondered…am I only one who thinks this?  What are the intangibles when it comes to runners?  Are they motivated because they need a slot in a popular sold out race or is the cause driving their participation?  I think it’s a little of both, but I wanted to find more.

So, I emailed a bunch of my friends who all used to manage successful marathon and triathlon programs.   My friend Jessica was the first to respond.  She’s an avid runner and not only managed marathon programs, but she’s also run several marathons and raised thousands of dollars by asking her friends for support.  My original plan was to share several comments from my friends, but plans change.  After reading Jessica’s email, I couldn’t pull out just one comment.  Keep reading and you’ll see why.  I’ll continue to share more comments from my friends and I hope you’ll share yours.

Hey Amy,

I think that overall, marathoners tend to be very passionate people with a competitive spirit. If you sign up to run a marathon or half marathon, you have a competitive drive that sets you apart. Even if you aren’t running for a specific time, you have to be wired to push yourself if you are undertaking this kind of a physical challenge.  And you have to be passionate, because a marathon requires determination, patience and consistency when it comes to training. Passion and competition are what make for successful fundraising. If you are passionate, it means you are more likely to communicate the importance of the mission passionately, and paint a more vivid picture of why funds are needed. This will be more inspiring to your donors. Also, you are more likely to reach out to a wider net of people, when you share your asks.  And being competitive means you won’t settle for just the fundraising minimum – you will strive to raise as much money as you can – again, reaching out to more people, and continuing to ask until the gifts are secured.

I also think that people give more to their marathon-ing friends than those “just doing a walk” because a marathon (half marathon, century ride, triathlon, whatever endurance sport it is), seems much more impressive and daunting then a 3 mile casual walk. Donors to marathoners are either unable to fathom completing such an event, and give a larger gift, or they are endurance athletes themselves, so they “respect the distance” and give a bigger gift.

And finally, statistically people competing in endurance charity events tend to have higher incomes, and more money that they can spend on “leisure”. Race gear (especially for cyclists and triathletes) is expensive. To be an athlete, you have to be able to afford running shoes, a bike, gear, etc. And with higher earnings comes more money available to donate to charity.  People making more tend to associate with people making more, so their donor pool is filled with people able to give more. While this is not always the case, I do know that back from my TNT days, studies were indicating these trends.  I doubt they have changed.

End of day, when a charity athlete commits to training for their event, they are locked in, and will do everything they can to succeed — in their event and in their fundraising.

Hope this helps!


Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

Comments (1)

  • Amy Braiterman says:

    Today, I received another response from one of my friends and as promised I’ll keep sharing their thoughts.

    Hi Amy,

    I think the connection to the Cause/Organization is key to the success for endurance athletes or any fundraisers for that matter. They may have been affected, know someone who has been affected, or may just feel a strong pull towards the cause. This connection drives a fundraiser to put more time, effort, care, and compassion into their fundraising efforts. They also talk passionately about the cause and are just as committed to making a difference for their organization as they are to running the marathon. It doesn't mean that you have to know someone directly affected to be successful, as long as the runner has a true passion they are going to try harder and be more successful.

    What does this mean: Organizations should use their volunteer/donor base to heavily recruit for events (walk, marathon, tri, etc…). The more commitment to the cause on the Team means more dollars for the organization.

    I also think we need to consider the role of non-profit staff in endurance programs. Successful fundraisers have committed staff members behind them motivating them every step of the way. These staff members work very hard to not only motivate but actually “make” the runner believe they can achieve fundraising success. They set-up great fundraising guides, have personal conversations about goals, follow-up constantly during the training season, and celebrate the fundraising success with them when goals are met. They talk passionately about their mission and impart this passion onto the runner. It's important, but can be time consuming validating the runner every step of the way so they are empowered to keep going.

    What does this mean: Organizations need to empower their staff to empower charity runners towards success. It will make a HUGE difference.

    Thanks for asking and letting me share my thoughts,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *