I didn’t realize this before I moved to Boston five years ago, but the Boston Marathon is a really big deal. It’s like an international event. What?! I mean, I did spend half of my life in Texas, and I literally only run to the dinner table, so I guess my ignorance is justified. But imagine my surprise when I realized the Marathon was so important to the people of Boston (and the world) that people took time off of work to host brunches and watching parties, or to go to the finish line, or to volunteer at the race at the crack of dawn, or even…*gasp* to actually run the thing.
Another thing I didn’t realize before I moved to Boston five years ago was that when you run the Boston Marathon, you either have to qualify for the race (really hard to do, duh), or commit to raising at least $5,000 for a charity of your choosing, and run on that charity’s behalf. I have one word for both options: hoops. Major hoops. I know what you’re thinking: $5,000 doesn’t sound like that much – but it totally is! Especially when you’re trying to raise money in a true grassroots fashion.
A similar fundraising requirement is in place for events like the Pan Mass Challenge, another Boston-area classic, this time with bikes, benefitting cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. According to the Pan Mass Challenge website, the event raised an incredible $45 million in 2015 alone through it’s various events and races, which take place all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Riders must create a page that they are encouraged to share with family and friends, who can pledge donations based on the mileage accrued during their race.
So this time of year, a lot of invites start rolling through on Facebook for so-and-so’s Marathon Fundraiser Benefiting X Organization, hosted at a place like Lir on Boylston, or the Pour House on Boylston, or Dillon’s on Boylston. It’s exciting, and as an outsider with a lot of fit and fast friends, it’s a little overwhelming, too. How do you say “no” to a friend who asks you to donate to their Marathon fundraiser when the money is directly supporting a cause they believe passionately enough in to run 26.2 miles for? I can’t even run 26.2 seconds without wanting to dramatically lie on the floor and never get up.
Participation in these events among Millennials is at an all-time high, with the Millennial Running Study reporting that over 18 million of the 42 million people who self-identify as runners or joggers are Millennials. The majority of respondents to this study, done in conjunction with Running USA, stated that their primary motivation for participating in running events like the Marathon or the Pan Mass Challenge or any Boston Athletic Association events is to stay fit and to be challenged. Only 34% of respondents participated in a running event that supported a cause because it supported that – or any – cause.
While these stats are interesting, and may have an effect on how running events are organized in the future, the question still remains about how to navigate the myriad fundraising events that may take place now. To help you out, here’s a little “Choose Your Own Adventure” for how to make the most of April, otherwise known as the Month of Marathon Fundraisers.
If you’re a runner looking to host a fundraiser:
- Consider hosting your fundraiser at the organization you’ll be running on behalf of, instead of at a bar. Depending on the organization’s capacity, this could be tough, but if they have space for you to bring your donors to them, it will add a lot of awareness to your event. Your attendees will have a chance to visualize the space where they work, and can mix and mingle with the staff in a space where the staff is comfortable. That could lead to more frank conversations about the needs of the organization, and a much easier way for your friends to connect how their donation makes an impact.
- Can’t host your fundraiser at the organization? No sweat. Be sure to invite representatives from the organization to talk with your guests at your fundraiser wherever you do host it. Also, invite them to speak about the impact this donation would make for them, so that your event doesn’t just turn into another drinking party.
- Work with the charity to figure out what your $5,000 will be used for. By having clear plans for what contributions will be used for, you and the non-profit you’re running for can clearly communicate with people who might be on the fence about giving. You can never be too transparent.
- It doesn’t stop after you’ve completed the race. Once the race is over and the money has all been raised, be sure to reiterate your thanks to your donors by updating them on how you did during the race, thanking them for their support, and giving a report on how the non-profit is doing with the money that was raised.
If you’re not a runner but you’re getting invited to lots of marathon fundraisers:
- I’m all for participating in great causes, and supporting your friends who are being active and running on behalf of a charity is as great a cause as any. However, before committing to all (or any) invitations you may have, consider all your options. Are there people who might be running for a cause you are more passionate about? Okay, then start there.
- Giving is important, but you shouldn’t feel obligated. If you’re finding that your Facebook Inbox is filled with fundraiser invites, consider putting a cap on how many you attend or contribute to. I always say that while I love to have Millennials give at all, I also don’t want you to give because you feel like you have to – that doesn’t feel good for the organizer and it certainly won’t feel good to you as the donor, either.
- Set philanthropic goals for yourself. If you’ve set a budget for what you’d like to contribute for the whole year, take that one step further and set a budget for what you’d like to spend on contributions to event fundraising like this. You want to help your friends, but you also want to make sure you have room to make gifts for your philanthropic priorities later, so don’t spend it all now.
- Even if you can’t or don’t want to donate to a friend’s fundraising campaign, try to attend the fundraising event to show your support. Write them an email before the event explaining to them that you can’t give directly, but will still show up for them. I can’t tell you the number of times my friends have shown up for me to an event but weren’t able to give – and there was something about them making the effort that was even more meaningful than any gift they could have donated.