Fund Running

Charity fundraising made easy - 10 simple steps, with real-life examples

Posted: 9 December 2006
by Shane Starling & Oliver Roberts

Runners taking part in the Flora London Marathon have earned more than £200 million for a range of charities since the first race way back in 1981. And the pace of fundraising shows no signs of slowing – more than £30 million was raised this year, making it the most lucrative one-day annual fundraising event in Britain. And with charity runners making up a large part of the fields at an increasing number of events, from the Great North Run to the London Triathlon, or even the Paris and New York marathons, the profile of fundraising looks set to rise further still.

Of course, you can’t expect to make it through the race without applying yourself to your training, and the same is true of fundraising – the more you put in, the more you (and your chosen charity) will get out of it. So pull a fundraising schedule together and get into it – you might even find it is more fun than you expected. Here are 10 can't-fail tips to help you maximise your fundraising potential.

1. Choose a charity you care about

"It’s vital to pick a cause that is close to your heart," says Lloyd Scott, the man who ran London in a 122lb deep-sea diving suit in 2003. "Not everyone who runs for charity has had a major illness, but it may be that they know someone who has been ill or homeless – some kind of personal link is important. You need to have something you believe in." A personal crusade is easier to get fired up about, and the more fired up you are, the harder you’ll work to raise that money. Plus your enthusiasm is more likely to rub off on others (provided you don’t annoy them by pushing too hard).

2. Stay one step ahead

Once you've been accepted by a charity, tell people what you’re doing before you even get your forms and start planning. Let as many people as possible know about your 'adventure'. Break down the target sum into smaller chunks so a sense of achievement is gained at each point along the way, and keep all your donors updated as your total rises and your training progresses (a bulk e-mail works really well). If people feel involved in what you are doing, they're more likely to support you.

3. Use your imagination

Dare to be different in your approach. When Scott ran his five-and-a-half-day marathon, he raised more than £100,000 for the Cancer and Leukemia In Childhood organisation. You don’t have to go that far, but the more extraordinary you can make your fundraising effort or race activity, the more likely you are to get people interested and enthusiastic. Run in costume, sing your way round or offer to walk people’s dogs while you’re training. If you can use your imagination to catch people’s attention, you’ll probably catch their money, too.

4. Give something back

It’s often easier to get people to part with their money if they feel like they’re getting something in return. "We had some special forms made up, did some T-shirts, some badges and stickers," says Scott. But you could also consider getting them to sign your race kit so everyone can see they’re supporting you, or use the time-honoured cake sale to raise some extra funds. Or you could get your hands dirty and offer to wash people’s cars or windows.

5. Ask the experts

Most charities are well-versed in the art of fundraising (obviously) and they are an invaluable source of information to get you on your way and over your target in good time. "We supply materials such as collection tins, balloons, posters and leaflets," says Leigh Pearce, events organiser at the National Meningitis Trust. "We send people a list of tips as well, and we even help them to get into the press by providing template press releases that they can then send to their local newspapers and radio stations. Local papers are looking for stories like this all the time, so it’s not that difficult."

6. Learn the tricks

Even an old trick like ensuring the first person to sign your sponsorship form gives a substantial amount can go a long way to boosting your funds, as people will tend to follow suit. And don’t leave the money collection until after the event. Ask for it up front when they sign your form, because it is really easy to write the figure down and not so easy to go back and ask for the money. If something happens and you don’t run the marathon for whatever reason, then try to come up with some sort of agreement with your sponsors – you’ll find that most people donate anyway.

7. Every little helps

"Just standing outside your local supermarket with a collection tin for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon can be really fruitful," says Pearce. Even fundraising at the last minute can do wonders – why not carry a collection tin for gathering donations during the race, or even on training runs?

8. Delegation’s what you need

The secret of effective project management is delegation – so get family and friends involved. They’re probably dying to present one of your sponsorship forms to their own workmates and among their circle of friends, so they can vicariously bathe in your glory (without doing the training). Or team up with a fellow charity fundraiser to pool your resources – doubling up this way can often more than double your money.

9. Cast your net wide

The Internet is becoming the most potent weapon in the modern fundraiser’s arsenal. Shelter works with an online facility called that allows fundraisers to set up websites to promote their efforts. "You can get sponsors involved with what you are doing because you can post images and articles to keep people updated," says Jemma Drummond, marathon project manager for Shelter. "It’s a great place to publicise your story – to spell out why you are doing what you are doing. If you are communicating with your sponsors on a regular basis, then it is easier to go back and ask them for money."

Other sites also act as a payment place for donations. "People tell us that trying to get the money after the event is just as bad as doing all the training," notes Nick Cater of "It’s often a bit embarrassing and people can forget."Setting up a website gets round these problems, but also offers a convenient way for the giver to pay, not to mention a Gift Aid tax incentive, which can add up to 28 per cent to the grand total, courtesy of the Exchequer.

10. Play the corporation game

There’s more fundraising potential in your office than just the wallets of your colleagues. As Drummond points out, "Many companies will have a policy on how they work with charities, and they’ll have a policy on staff getting involved with charity." Ask your employer to match your own fundraising efforts – you might be surprised by how willing they are to help. And if all else fails – there’s always that deep-sea diving suit.

All in a good cause
Hannah Clark and Sean Meredith organised a multiple blind date for friends, raising £2000 of their £3000 total in a single night

"I’d met Hannah at the 2002 London Marathon,” says Meredith, "and we decided to pool our resources for the following year. We were chatting one evening, and she was telling me about a blind date that her friends had set her up on. That sparked the idea for organising a mass date using her friends and mine.

"We sent a simple questionnaire out to about 80 people, then paired everyone up based on the replies we got. Everyone who took part was asked to pay £10 for the privilege.

"We booked tables at restaurants in Soho and hired a room in a nightclub. On the night, which was the weekend after Valentine’s Day, all the guys met me in one pub, and all the girls met Hannah in another. Each half of a pair was given an envelope with a map to a restaurant and the name of their date. The guys were sent off ahead so that they were waiting for the girls. They paid for their own meals – though we were able to arrange discounts at most of the restaurants – and then everyone gathered at the nightclub for a party to which other, attached, friends were also invited – for a £5 fee."

"It was fun to arrange and fun for those taking part, though we didn’t manage to set up any lasting relationships. People are usually very generous, but sometimes offering a little incentive can make them even more willing to pay out. And the fact that we were able to raise so much in one go, and so early on, certainly made the rest of our fundraising less stressful."

Linda Gelernter raised over £25,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity

"My son Theo was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph gland back in December. It turned our lives around completely. The day after the diagnosis he was in hospital, and five days afterwards he was in Great Ormond Street having chemotherapy. I’d started running last summer and had applied to do London, but I hadn’t got in. So when one of the nurses mentioned that some places were still available, I decided to run for Great Ormond Street because they’d given such stupendous medical and emotional support."

“The fact that the cause was so personal really helped. I think if you want to raise a lot of money you have to be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to it. I was absolutely mercenary. I typed out a letter telling Theo’s story and explaining what I hoped to achieve, and I sent it to everyone I knew. Not only that, I asked them to send me lists of people they knew who wouldn’t mind receiving the same letter. Then I sent letters to them, with extra notes explaining who I was and who I’d got their details from. I must have sent out over 350 letters. The response was amazing. People I barely knew took sponsorship forms round their offices to raise more money when they got the letter. And I’m still getting cheques through the post."

Adam Marcinowicz built a bench to help him raise £1500 for Mencap at London

"I’m a student at Newcastle University, and in our student house we have a picnic bench in the dining room instead of a table (it was cheaper). People who came round started signing the bench. So, when I was trying to get a charity place to run the Marathon I did a brainstorm to find a unique way to demonstrate my commitment – something that would catch people’s attention.

"I decided to build a charity model of that bench, and wrote my training diary, list of donations and totaliser on the bench. I did all the usual sending out letters and fundraising, but I also took the bench with me everywhere. I took it to Newcastle Quayside and the Angel of the North to raise money with my collection tins. I took it to my training races and got the winners to sign it. I balanced it on my chin for the runners in the Flora 1000-Mile Challenge. I even dismantled it, put it in a backpack (it weighed about 16kg) and trudged up Ben Nevis in the snow, then reassembled it at the top. It even waited for me in the Mencap charity tent at the end of the Marathon. I think it’s important to get people’s attention, and I wanted to do that little bit extra so I’d stand out."

Five Of The Best Ways To Run For Charity
  • Do a mass-participation race. But do it abroad. That way you get the thrill of travel, the buzz of a great race and the opportunity to make new running friends as you meet other members of your charity’s team.
  • Do it yourself. You can just as easily approach the charity yourself and tell them you’d like to run a race for them, they’ll often help with fundraising materials, advice and contacts within the sport.
  • Take it to extremes. One of the best incentives in a race is knowing you’re doing it for a worthy cause, which means that charity running is ideal when you’re stepping up to a new challenge. There are runners out there running across deserts, up the sides of mountains and in the depths of the jungle – all in the name of charity.
  • Little and often. Dedicate your entire year’s racing to a charity, take a collection tin to the race and take a collection after you finish. You’ll be surprised how much you can raise over an entire year.
  • Become a star. You can’t turn yourself into Madonna, but you can still get noticed and build a reputation for yourself and your fundraising efforts. Wearing a costume, run in your underwear, sing or dance round the race. All that matters is that you get noticed.

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Discuss this article

Hello everyone

I'm starting to put together an article for charity runners who are fundraising (for FLM and in general), and I’m hoping you guys might be able to lend a hand...

I'd love to hear how you raised money - did you hold a good old bring n' buy sale? run a sweepstake based on your finishing time? or did your baking skills come in handy?

How did you choose a charity to support? How did you find enough time and energy for fundraising as well as training? How did you cajole money out of people with ‘sponsor fatigue’? And is there anything else you wish you’d known when you were totting up the pennies for that Golden Bond place?!

All pearls of wisdom and fundraising anecdotes much appreciated, the more practical and useful the better.

Thanks in advance for your time,

Alice RW

Posted: 11/12/2008 at 11:07

I have run for Children with Leukaemia for 5 years because when my son was younger he was very poorly and one of the things being considered was leukaemia - as luck would have it it wasn't that but it brought to my attention the awfulness of the disease and what the children and their families have to go through.

I stuck to the good old favourites like - online page,  a sweepstake of guess the nearest finish time, raffles, sold cakes at work, did a car boot sale, approached my children's schools for non uniform days and the local infant school did a marathon event of their own with half the proceeds of their sponsorship going to me and the other half going to the school (supported by gifts from the charity for the biggest fundraiser etc)

It was hard at times fitting it all in but I over the years have managed to raise £11k in total with a bit of effort and some very generous friends and family. 

Believe in the charity you are supporting as it helps loads.

Posted: 12/12/2008 at 13:09

I am running this year's FLM for Wellchild and an employee of mine suggested that instead of everyone sending each other xmas cards when we see each other every day that a donation be made to the charity.

Needless to say i have promoted her to campaign manager!!

Posted: 12/12/2008 at 15:17

Wrap things around other events.

IE a friend made a fantastic choccy cake for me for Valentines Day and I had some boxes of chocs donated so I raffled them around my office.  At Easter three of us put £10 each in for a VERY big Thorntons Easter Egg and then I bought three for £5 ordinary ones.  Raffled around the building where we work and raised £240.

I would love more ideas though as I do at least one charity event a year and squeezing money out of people is getting harder all the time.

Posted: 28/12/2008 at 17:22

Before our first London Marathon last year the mrs and I signed up half a dozen family/mates to help us bag pack at our local supermarket. Not so exciting after a 20-miler the previous day.

It was a relatively quiet Sunday and we only covered about half the tills but came away with more than £400 in about four hours.

Our charity - Anthony Nolan Trust - gave us a load of t-shirts, stickers, buckets, balloons etc so we looked the part, which I think helped.

Another thing that worked was telling our respective parents how well the other set were doing at getting cash for us - playing them off against eachother (in the nicest possible way and in the name of charity).

One thing people need to look out for though - our target was £1500 each with a £200 deposit each for the place. We didn't just have to raise the £1500 though - anything above that was just taken off the amount of deposit we'd get back - making the total target £1700 if you want to see your deposit again. More than a bit annoying to find this out after raising £3300 between us and completing our first marathon - the charities aren't stupid.

Posted: 23/05/2009 at 16:21

I can run a marathon GFA time so getting into FLM09 was no problem, and really took the pressure off any fundraising targets.

My charity was Against Breast Cancer, as my wife had it last year and is now in remission.

The plan was to target groups in this order

Close friends
Her work my work
Contacts on Runners World
Her church contacts
Anyone else we bumped into.

I never set a target, and was stunned when I hit £1,000 so quick.

Some promised, and I reminded them, but after that if they hadn't given I didn't push, with the credit crunch everyone is struggling at the moment.

What really surprised me was the generosity of the people on the sub 3 thread. Loads made donations who had never met me before, which was astonishing. Perhaps they paid up not to meet me!

Despite the charitable bonuses on offer for me going sub 3, I failed yet again, which was disappointing.

Anyway we finished up with a tidy sum, and I'm currently negotiating with my work to see if they'll match the donations I collected, which could see the pot double.

Posted: 23/05/2009 at 17:17

My running partner and I did FLM the same year, and did lots of our fundraising together.  In the runup to Christmas we had an Open Day at her house and invited the world and his wife.

I made loads of mincemeat and sold it in Jars decorated to look all Christmassy.  Same thing with onion marmalade.  Also made loads of cakes to sell.

My chum made loads of Christmas cards, and organised people she knew who had little craft stalls and so on to sell their stuff on the day and give her a share of the takings.  We got some local shops to donate raffle prizes and  sold the tickets at the open day.

People were incredibly generous and we raised hundreds of pounds in that one day - almost made it to four figures.

Posted: 24/05/2009 at 09:19

At work I contacted my customers and sold advertising space on my t shirt to them.  Most went for it as they felt that they were getting something for their money.
Posted: 24/05/2009 at 13:55 has stopped charging commission on all sponsorship fundraising - so every step you take and every penny you raise now goes to the cause you care about.

Now you can reassure your sponsors that 50p out of every £10 donation isn't being diverted to pay for your sponsorship website - and it's good to know that if you're running the Marathon you're not slogging 1.3 miles just to pay for your sponsorship page!

If you want to find out more check out Free My Charity - and please spread the word that sponsorship fundraising should be commission-free.

Posted: 04/01/2010 at 08:54

A mate of mine ran for Children with Lukeamia a few years ago.  He hired the village hall and put on a cooked breakfast, selling tickets for a fiver a go.  Its now become an institution and he does it every year, regardless of whether or not he's running the marathon.
Posted: 04/01/2010 at 08:59

I raised a load of cash by selling tickets to predict my finishing time. At £10 a go with a first prize of £100 for the closest time, people seemed to pay more as they thought they were getting something back rather then just sponsoring me.
Posted: 04/01/2010 at 09:23

I see this is pretty old but still very useful. I've just found another way to run and do some good in the world so I'm telling everyone about it. The Good Gym - run, do some community work, run some more. It's a brilliant idea:
Posted: 27/07/2011 at 20:55

Contact local shops and ask for vouchers/freebies then ebay them and tell everyone. Ebay will not charge fees if it is for charity, most local shops will get involved in return for some advertising - particularly for local charities.

Run a sweepstake on lottery bonus ball, grand national, losing weight, swear jar, soaps outcomes, dates of office colleague popping sprog, date you hit your fundraising target, who will win the local kids footy match... anything really. Make the prize one of the shop freebies.

Get persmission from the council, dress up in a costume, collect money in the street in buckets with people who receive the funds. E.g. did this for a local disabled college to fund sports and rehab equipment, I was a fairy, they loved the day out. Made over £700quid in 2 hours in coventry town centre and one random lovely lady bought us all sweeties.

My friend also made up jewellery with bits and pieces from a craft shops, was really easy, really cheap and sold it for loads for the charity.

Had a cheese and wine party once - £15 entry, buy a range of cheap to expensive wines from a warehouse and get some people to bring their faves, spend the evening supping and sipping and you usually have a decent wad (of cash and wine) left over!

Costume at work, stand outside the canteen at coffee and lunch breaks taking peoples change - often in exchange for some handmade stickers or summit.

Print little cards for random occasions and sell them to people at work and running club with funny slogans. e.g. "happy friday", "thinking of you - that's all", "Dear friend, happy easter/valentines/christmas/all saints day - this card covers all celebrations you have in the next year, Love me", "happy sunshine day", "it's raining outside so this yellow card is for your daily sunshine", "happy bonus day", "happy bladder busting monthly meeting day"...

Come Dine with Work Me - had a serious of dinner parties (usually one a week or fortnight) and ask people to pay what they think it is worth. The person who raises the most cash gets a bottle of bubbly and all the cash goes to charity. It's really like eating out at a resturant and paying anyhow!

Ben B - thanks for the tip on a free chairty site - so pleased this is finally happening - I hate using online sites and justifying the % scrape to the host.

I often spend my long runs thinking of ideas to distract me on the long boring bits. Some of the ideas are ludicrous when I think back afterward and some work!

Posted: 28/07/2011 at 08:44

I ran an online page and harassed work friends and family for fundraising. There were the normal raffles etc. One of the best ones i've seen is  a sweepstake for the final marathon time. You get whoever sponsors you to guess the time and they get a prize if they win (this was donated by a local company). It really got people thinking and betting against each other (down to the second at one point!).

I also like the idea of cake sales/newsletters. I ran a race for SOS Children's village and put that in our department newsletter (it goes across Europe). I suddenly got donations from Europe, US and some completely random bosses/people.

One of my colleagues who is running London is planning a "dress up" day. You can pay £1/£5 (dependent upon the article) and he has to wear it all day (everything from a bikini, flower hat, nail polish, make up. There will probably be a big group of them doing it so hopefully it'll raise a lot of money. I think the more people that you can harness for the cause - the better you can do.

Posted: 28/07/2011 at 09:43

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