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5 Tips to a Successful Run, Walk, or Ride Fundraiser

"The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” — American essayist and poet John Burroughs.

The quote above originated years before the first nationwide walking fundraiser, The March for Babies, in 1970. Yet it almost perfectly describes a fundraiser that is disorganized, and ultimately unsuccessful. You can have the best intentions in the world, but will feel tremendous disappointment if you go through the pain of running that marathon, or biking a hundred miles and fall woefully short of your fundraising goal.

The most successful fitness fundraisers have a few things in common: they are well-organized, well-recruited, and their supporters are engaged throughout the entirety of the process. With that being said, here are a few simple steps to follow when considering a marathon fundraiser, a cycling fundraiser, or any other kind of sports crowdfunding event.

1) Bring Your Fundraiser Online

The only regret we have about Jen Marlowe, whose recent marathon fundraiser raised over $10,000 for kids in Gaza, is that she didn’t find Pledge It sooner. Unaware of the fact that there was a platform out there that could bring sports fundraising online, she had gone the “analog” route for previous fundraisers, writing down pledges by hand and tracking individuals down one by one.

“I’ve used other platforms like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and WeCare before. But I specifically didn’t want to use those platforms when I did this hike a couple years back because I wanted to invite people to pledge per mile,” she explained. “I didn’t know a platform existed where I could automate it. Then, when I decided I was going to run this marathon I googled “marathon fundraisers” and Pledge It came up. I thought ‘this is perfect. This is exactly what I need.’ I wish I’d known about it in the past because I spent so much time coordinating, and keeping track of what people were pledging per mile. This time with Pledge It I cut out the pain of having to track payments and pledges.”

To put in perspective Marlowe’s past versus most recent experiences, online giving grew by 23% in 2017, compared to 15% the previous year, according to a study performed by online marketing firm M+R Benchmarks . Online fundraisers like Marlowe’s Marathon are the now and the future, while tracking manually by pen and paper is a thing of the past.

2) Recruit Inside Out

There is a common misconception that social media will do the recruiting for you. While it’s true that social media is an important tool in the recruitment tool box, it is only one of many, and it must be used correctly.

The method we recommend is the “inside out” recruitment strategy. Inside out refers to going to those in your tightest, innermost circle first. Give them a personal phone call or a text. Tell your story; explain in detail what you are doing and why you are doing it. Start with your parents and/or siblings and expand from there.

After you’ve contacted your inner circle, expand to your more casual friend groups. The people you bike or jog with, or your weekend crew. Whatever your more loosely-associated friend group is, encourage them to pledge per mile to support you. This is where a big email blast may be more appropriate, made easy by Pledge It’s “Manage Supporters” feature. Be sure to also ask that group, in turn, to share your campaign with their audience. You never know who will see and give to your campaign.

Take it from Stephanie Berry, who is using her half-marathon fundraiser to honor the memory of her aunt, and has earned over $7,000 to her cause. “There’s people on my donor list that I don’t even know. Whether they’re friends of my uncle’s or cousins, I don’t personally know them. The outpouring of love and support from other people is overwhelming.”

Once you’ve built some momentum with the people closest to you, then you can share your fundraiser on social media to reach a larger audience. Posting too early can make it look like you’re sharing an unsuccessful campaign, and may actually dissuade people from getting involved.

3) Encourage Supporters to Crowdsource With You

You can take recruitment to the next level by encouraging others to fundraise with you. No, they don’t have to perform the event with you. They can simply use Pledge It’s “Become a Fundraiser” feature to get their own custom link associated with your campaign.

When they share with their friends and family (encourage them to use the same inside out strategy we detailed above), the pledges they get will be displayed on their own custom page, while still being deposited to your beneficiary. Get enough fundraisers, and you can watch your friends and family duke it out for the top spot on your fundraiser leaderboard.

If you miss an update, Pledge It keeps some steady content streaming to your audience. Everyone who gives will receive updates when your campaign reaches important milestones like 25%, 50% and 75% of your fundraising target hit, as well as whenever a performance is recorded.

4) Leverage Your Training

You’re doing a sports fundraiser. This gives you a unique ability to connect with your audience that others just don’t have. Take photos or selfies out on a training session as you get ready for your event. Just for fun, show yourself out in some extreme conditions—a brutally hot or cold day, getting caught in an unexpected rainstorm— to show your dedication to the cause!

Whatever the case, engage your audience regularly. Let them enjoy the full experience of your fundraiser with you. Don’t be like those “other” fundraising managers that don’t engage once the money is given. To our point about social media earlier, this is also great content to share on your various profiles.

Sometimes, your "training" can be your event. Many people are familiar with a race or event to raise money. But you can try something new and different by using your cumulative miles through a month, season, or year as your fundraiser. Aaron Staenberg, pictured above, is biking 4,000 miles in the year leading up to his 40th Birthday to benefit Parkinson's research. His year-long Pedaling for Parkinson’s campaign has been a hit amongst his community, as it has raised over $14,000 so far.

*Bonus Training Tip: Keep a Steady Pace

The steady training pace goes for those performing traditional race or event-based fundraisers, but also those accumulating miles over a longer period of time. For the racers, it’s highly recommended you don’t let that marathon be the first time you have run further than a mile. Extreme example, but make sure you are building toward the distance you intend to complete during your training sessions. You don’t want to come up short or get hurt when the big day comes.

For those that are doing a cumulative run toward a total distance, rather than specific races or events, make sure you are chipping away toward your goal at a consistent clip. Staenberg for example, has averaged well over 300 miles per month to ensure he will hit his 4,000-mile goal for the year. You may want to do the math and plan your pace beforehand, as Staenber did, so you know what goal you need to hit on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

5) Say Thank You

It may seem obvious, but when your fundraiser is complete, don’t forget to thank those who gave to your campaign! Remember, that was their hard-earned money they gave to your cause. It is recommended you send these thank yous within 2-3 days of the completion of your event.

Include some highlights from your walk, ride, or race, your final tally, and the impact these contributions made. For most, a simple email will do, though some donors’ generosity may warrant more personal outreach. However you do it, be sure you don’t forget this final and crucial step! If you ever run a follow-up campaign, it will likely be the difference between you receiving repeat donors.

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Published on June 18, 2019

by Alexander Diegel

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