Raising Money and Training

Tending bar at Maddy's Pub in Washington, DC, May 2010 as part of my fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training
Tending bar at Maddy’s Pub in Washington, DC, May 2010 as part of my fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training

While most runners are taking time off to cross-train and condition during the harsh cold winter months, I bet most runners have already decided which races they will want to participate in for 2014. Endurance events like marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons are increasing in popularity, making some of the biggest, most popular races in the country sell out in record times or require lottery entries to participate. If you find yourself shut out of some of the most popular races in the country, you’re in luck: most races partner with local or national nonprofits and keep a limited number of race slots open for runners who want to raise money through their training. As endurance events continue to gain popularity, this is a win-win situation for runners and resource-strapped nonprofits both.

Running and raising money is as easy or as difficult as you would want it to be. I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way that come with fundraising, or “fundracing” while training for events. My very first adventure in fundracing, I signed up through an organization whose cause I didn’t quite feel a personal attachment to, even though I knew it was important to other people. I just wanted to help. But there were quite a few things wrong with that approach, however noble my intentions.

First of all, the event I had signed up to do was an Olympic-distance triathlon and it would have been my very first endurance event ever. I’d never even run a 5K. While I was in shape and running a lot, I was in no way prepared to complete an event like that with only three months to train for it.

Second, the fundraising limit was very high. It was too high. Not only was it my first endurance event but it was my first time experience with fundraising and I had to raise $3,000 in three months. The organization was helpful and gave me a lot of tips and tools to make it work, but the problem was with me. I had to be aggressive in this effort, and all of my aggression was being channeled into keeping with a rigorous training schedule that I was completely unfamiliar with.

Third, I as I said before, I didn’t feel a personal attachment to the cause. While it was important, yes, in order to raise that kind of money in that short of time, it is critical to your success and the organization’s success if you understand what it is that you are trying to bring awareness to, cure, stop, or work towards and can speak to some level of sincerity about it to your donors. Whether it’s curing some form of cancer, eradicating poverty, or providing young mothers with maternal care, you have to care enough. You can learn as much about any new cause as you want and hopefully you will become a stronger philanthropist as you grow into a stronger athlete, but if you can’t relate to the cause, you’re never going to be able to convince people to donate towards it. Or, if you somehow are able to, it might feel like a burden to you if you don’t understand it enough and, believe it or not, this will impact your training. Conversely, even without an emotional attachment to the cause, you still need a system to raise money– a tried and true, proven method of garnering enough attention from as many people as possible to raise the kind of money needed to meet your goal.

Fundracing is an extraordinary thing to do and one that you absolutely should consider doing at some point, especially if you run or race a lot. But you are doing a lot of work for the organization and you need to be in this as much as they are counting on you.

Take my advice:

  • Find a cause that you care about. Lord knows there are plenty out there and there’s enough work to go around.
  • Get a system. Just because you can’t cry on demand at some injustice like cancer or global health doesn’t mean you don’t care about the issue. And it doesn’t mean you can’t still raise money for the cause either. As a fundraiser, your job is to simply increase as much awareness with your network as you can, explain that you are doing whatever you can to advance/reverse/address the cause, and that their “whatever you can” is helping you reach your goal. Getting a system also means finding the right way to reach your audience who is likely bombarded with requests to help other worthwhile causes. For me, putting my hobby of crocheting to work to make infinity scarves that sold for $20 donations each was my system.
  • Make sure you can do the athletic event. Yes, things happen– you get injured, the real world decides to interfere, things come up. But if you can’t do an Olympic-distance triathlon or an ultra-marathon beyond a reasonable doubt, then don’t do one. Take a step back and train for a race or event that is at your level, whatever it may be. Both your fundraising requirements and training level will be at a manageable level and you will have a greater likelihood for success in both goals.
  • Make sure the fundraising requirements are attainable. Some organizations require that you fundraise enough to pay your own race registration, travel, and lodging but many other organizations only require a minimum fundraising level if you are able to pay for those things yourself. And you can always raise more than the minimum if you find that you are on a roll!
  • Make sure you are ready to handle the fundraising that comes along with the training because both take as much time and energy for as much reward. There are a lot of creative ways to raise money for important causes, but make sure that you can handle both things at once on top of everything else in your life. Fundracing is supposed to be a fulfilling endeavor. Don’t try to save the world one triathlon at a time!

Have fun and good luck!

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