Charity Running Helps You Help Others!

American Cancer Society
Charity running is good for all of us! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does charity running freak you out? Are you intimidated by fundraising or feel bad hitting your friends and families up for cash?  Are you concerned that you wouldn’t be able to raise the money and would have to pay your pledge out of pocket?

I was the same way, until the fall of 2011, when I signed up last minute for a half marathon, but could only enter if I ran for charity.  I didn’t think I’d be able to raise the $500 for Team DetermiNation in four short weeks, but a few e-mails and a happy hour night showered me with donations far exceeding the minimum. The experience made me a true convert to charity running, and I’m hoping I can convince you as well.Trust me, when it comes to charity running I know what I’m talking about; Last September I began a new job in Income Development (fundraising) at American Cancer Society  This is my dream job! Not only am I raising awareness and money to defeat cancer (something my oldest sister has battled three times), but I also get to work on endurance sports events and help runners like you achieve their goals.


For those looking to run crowded marathons like New York or Chicago, charity running may guarantee entry to a race otherwise sold out.  And if you’re not a speed demon but have always wanted to run Boston, fundraising is your ticket in!

But there are benefits to charity running no matter what race you enter.  When you sign up as a charity runner, your entry fee is usually covered.  Big charity teams like ours also provide customized training through “Marathoner In Training”, host team socials and a pre-race dinner, and provide fundraising support through a personal web site page in exchange for a minimum donation commitment.

The money:

The minimum donation is different for every charity, but for ACS it’s just $500 for a half marathon distance and $1,000 for a marathon distance.  Now I know the financial commitment can be scary, especially since charities take down your credit card information to charge the balance, if you don’t raise your minimum donation.  But not to worry–you can always drop out with no obligation, but you’ll have to re-register for the race.  Also, most charity organizations require plenty of lead time between your commitment and the race itself, ensuring you have enough time to raise your money.  In my experience, when people hear you’re raising money for a worthy cause it’s unbelievable how many want to help, and it feels so good running a race knowing you are contributing to a better world!

Why the minimum donations? Well, the charity foots the bill for entry fees and provides socials, singlets and training at no cost to the runners, so those donations help ensure the charity is able to fulfill its primary mission (in our case, it’s contributing to cancer care and research) in addition to all the incentives for athletes.

How to fundraise:

Together, Wil and Steven raised $2,075.27 toward the fight against cancer, and dominated their first-ever marathon in 3:43:50!

For the Columbus marathon I worked with 37 runners (including my mom!) and together we raised almost $19,000 to help fight cancer.  But how?  How do you raise that much money?

Two of our marathon runners, Wil Santivasi and Steven Niedermeier, suggest a dine and donate night.  They invited friends and family to California Pizza Kitchen, and in one night raised over $400 with percentages of food purchases going to their team. Wil also used facebook to help raise money: for every “like” on certain statuses, he donated 10 cents. He also set incentives for his friends, like promising whoever donated the most in one week could choose whatever embarrassing outfit they wanted for him to wear at the Warrior Dash (luckily for him his grandmother won)!

Needless to say, creativity is key when it comes to fundraising, so most charities provide tools and resources to help you reach your monetary goal, including fundraising ideas.  When athletes sign up for Team DetermiNation, we send a welcome packet in the mail with the fundraising ideas.  And as a charity staff member, I can assure you that someone at your charity will be willing to help if you’re stuck for ideas or resources!  We want everyone to succeed!

But just to cover our bases, here are a couple ideas we like to share with our runners:

Try a spare change bucket on your desk at work, in the lunch room, even a local gas station or another local retailer…then drop by and collect the dollars weekly.

Have a selling party! Silpada, Pampered Chef, Tupperware…most of these companies will give you upwards of 40% of proceeds if you have a party to sell their wares.

Friends with your local bartender?  Ask him/her to put a sign up one night that says that all tips get donated to your cause, or ask if you can guest bartend and donate your own tips.

Ask your boss if you can host a “Dress Down Friday.”  Employees pay ($5-$10) to dress down on an assigned day.

Have a fundraising breakfast or lunch at home or at work.  Charge $10-15 per person. Ask a local restaurant or grocery store to donate food–you’d be surprised how easy this is!

Send an e-mail or pick up the phone! The number one reason people don’t donate is because they were never asked!  Wil told me: “There isn’t a single person who isn’t affected in some way by cancer, and asking is the only way to know if they’re willing to donate. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much people will donate if you just ask!”  And he’s right!

So, says Ginkgo….give charity running a go!  Whether you’re a beginning runner or an experienced one, I think you’ll find that running for a cause is both a way to get extra perks for your race and make your miles more meaningful in the process!

Salty readers, have you ever run for charity? If not, why not? If so, what did you most enjoy about it?

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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  1. This will be my third year running the Austin Livestrong Half-Marathon as part of Team Livestrong. The first year I raised $900. The second $1300. And this year I want to raise $1500. It makes me feel that I’m running for something more than ego. I’m running for the memory of my mother, both grandmothers, grandfather, and aunt and so many friends who are victims or survivors. Last year I put the names of all my donors, memorials, and survivors on my shirt and it was a conversation starter during the race.

    I got donations by sending out e-mails (people will forget – send it out again). Send one before the end of the year to remind them they can get a tax deduction this year and another next year in case they want a deduction next year. Send one the week of the race. Tweet it. Post it on facebook with funny one-liners and fundraising updates. I posted on my birthday saying “if we were together you might take me out for FroYo or Iced Tea but we’re not so please consider donating that $4.50…” I write a thank you note to every donor and send Livestrong bracelets. I also send a race summary after the race is over and copy every donor as well as people who didn’t donate but may do it then. This year I’m crocheting hats and will send one for a $20 donation.

    Perhaps most importantly, I support others. If someone posts on fb that they are doing Walk the cure, Mama Jama ride, rapelling down a building for Special Olympics (a friend is doing this this weekend), MS 150, ANYTHING… I donate. If I have “no money” I donate $10. If I barely know them I donate $10 or $15 or $25 of whatever I can come up with.

  2. Hi Debra!

    I LOVE your froyo status update idea for your birthday (might have to share that one)!

    Running for cancer has taught me that racing isn’t about my ego, either. Thinking about what cancer patients (or any patients, for that matter) have to endure, reminds me that going one more mile isn’t going to kill me, and the race with the clock really doesn’t matter. Getting out there, meeting others and finishing with a smile…that’s what it’s all about.

    I feel the same way in terms of donating to others – what goes around, comes around. Like you said, even though I often feel like I have “no money,” I can always manage to donate just $10. I believe in Karma 🙂

    My mom told me a story last night that reiterated the awesomeness of charity running. She has a friend whose mom is in the hospital undergoing treatment and having a really tough time. Her friend told her mom how my mother wore her name on her jersey to finish last week’s marathon. She smiled with tears in her eyes…

  3. I’ve done fundraising for two of my marathons (both for Girls on the Run). I love the organization, and the fundraising minimum was much lower, therefore less stress for me! I have spaced my fundraising races out by a good bit because I feel bad making “the ask” so soon afterwards.

    One idea that I did last time, which worked great, was a raffle. I wrote to some of my favorite running-related companies and asked if they’d be willing to donate anything. Then I told my friends how much tickets were… they went down the more you gave, if that makes sense. It was awesome because even if people didn’t feel strongly about the cause, they still might give for a chance to win something! I raised almost twice my original goal this way.