I spent a considerable part of yesterday watching the London Marathon. Been there, done that. What’s really interesting is how so many of the so called ‘masses’ run for charities. This is of course not unique to London. Runs of all distances attract charity runners, and the Race for Life is probably one of the most significant of them all.
Race for Life is dedicated solely to raising money for Cancer Research UK and it is almost entirely targeted at women. It has arguably done more than any other type of event to get people out and about, and more than any other to get people to combine fitness and fundraising.
One of the things about Race for Life is that it doesn’t matter how you complete the course – how fast or slow you are is irrelevant – it is taking part and raising the cash that counts. Race for Life has been an amazing success. I took part in the very first Race for Life, in London’s Battersea Park, in 1994. Even then it was a fundraiser and the 680 participants raised an impressive £36,000. Since then I’ve done several more events (I even had the coveted race number 1 in one event), and Race for Life has raised close to £500 million.
What is it about running (or walking, swimming, cycling and more) and fundraising that make them go together so well?
Race for Life is a particular kind of example – it supports just one cause. If you’re participating in most other events you get to select what you support, and many of us do make a choice to support something rather than nothing. I’ve mixed running for charity and running for myself across a range of different distances, and my selection of causes to support have been driven by personal factors. It will be the same for large numbers of those who run for charity.
It’s the psychology of it all that interests me. It would be possible to go to everyone you know and say “Look, I think xyz is a very good cause, and I’d really like to donate some money to it. Would you like to add to the pot too?”
I doubt you’d get many takers. But if you say “Look, I think xyz is a very good cause, and I’d really like to donate some money to it. If I take part in an activity and achieve something, will you put some money in the pot?” My experience suggests that when you do this far more people you ask come forward with donations than decide not to.
I think the race (or walk, cycle, swim or whatever it is you are doing to justify the sponsorship money), gives the fundraiser a hook to hang their moneypot on, and the donor a chance to come together with other people (most of whom they won’t even know), to produce a bigger pot of money than they could do individually. The fundraiser gets to work towards a financial target – and raise more than they could do without the activity.
Some fundraisers also find the fact that the need to complete the event to get the money is a spur. You often hear of people who really don’t fancy the training they’ve got scheduled, but they do it anyway, so as not to let down the people donating to them, and their cause.
In the end much of this is about belonging, and it works whichever angle you come at it from.
The donors become part of a group and are supporting not only the cause but the rest of the group of donors and you the fundraiser. The fundraiser belongs, in some sense, to the donors because they have made a pact to complete the event in order to earn the donors’ money. Both donor and fundraiser also belong, in a strange way, to the cause they have chosen to support.
Of course you can raise funds without doing any physical exertion, and the belonging concept still works. Movember, another cancer related fundraising activity, this time targeted at men and prostate cancer, requires the growing and then shaving of a moustache. And just about everything can be sponsored.
But the vast growth in sponsored runs, cycles, walks, swims and other kinds of physical activities show that fundraising and fitness go hand in hand really well, with goals and achievements on offer for everyone in the chain. What’s not to like about that?