Racing for a Cause

dowell

Hellooooo 2014! New Year, new opportunities for racing. Yippee! And with opportunities for racing come lots of opportunities for fundraising for charities. There are plenty of races where you commit to raise a minimum amount of dollars in exchange for being able to participate in the race. Great chance to raise money for charity, but the pressure is on to fundraise as well as train for the race.

A lot of major races have charity teams. For some races, it is the best – or only- chance many runners have to run the race. The Boston Marathon comes to mind. With no lottery, a charity team is the only opportunity runners who don’t qualify have to run the race (and this year, it’s almost impossible to get a charity bib ).  New York is another popular marathon for charity runners. Sure, they have a lottery, but they also have a zillion people applying for a spot (such as me, ahem. Fingers crossed!). So, if you lose in the lottery, a charity team can be your ticket to the race.

Then there are events that are pure fundraisers, such as our beloved PMC. You’re not fundraising to “get in,” to the race, you’re doing the ride for the sole purpose of raising funds. Every rider is committed to the same amount of fundraising, whether you are a professional cyclist or a beginner.

Lots of races. Lots of charities. Lots of opportunity to do something good while you do something you love. But what do you do if you are someone like me, who LOVES to do good, but HATES to fundraise? I hate to ask people for anything, especially money. I wrote last year that I was probably the only person signed up for the PMC who was more afraid of the fundraising than the ride. That is no exaggeration.

Well, if you are someone like me, and you find a cause that means the world to you, you just suck it up and take on the challenge.

Thought I’d share some fundraising thoughts & tips for others who are considering the plunge into running or riding on a charity team. ‘Cause you know, with one event under my belt, I’m now an expert.

Be realistic. Are you in a position to raise the necessary funds? If not, are you in a position to contribute the funds yourself? Timing can be everything. When I was in my early 20’s, it would have been easy for me to train for the PMC –tons of time and a young body, but I didn’t know anyone who had more than beer money, so fundraising would have been difficult. When I was in my early 30’s, it would have been easy for me to raise the funds for the PMC – I worked at a big law firm and could have raised the minimum in an hour, but I worked so much that training would have been brutal. Now, in my 40’s,it’s the perfect time for me – I have enough contacts to make fundraising feasible, feel comfortable making up any shortfall and (kind of) have enough time to train.

Be impassioned. Embrace your cause. Maybe you came to the event because of the cause, like me with the PMC. In that case, it is easy to be passionate. But even if you sign on to fundraise for a cause that you have not previously been involved with, dive in headfirst. Learn about the charity and its mission. Familiarize yourself with the different ways in which your charity serves its cause. Write a personal and informative solicitation letter that lets your donors know how much their contribution will mean to your charity and how it will be used. It’s so important to understand how your charity will utilize the funds you raise –some charities are more efficient than others, and if you can let your donors know that their funds will be well used to serve the cause, it will help with fundraising. For example, the PMC donates 100% of every rider-raised dollar to the Dana Farber Cancer Center. There is no doubt in any of my donors’ minds that their funds will be used directly for a good cause. I like being able to tell them that, both in my request letters and my thank-you letters.

Be creative. The most obvious way to raise funds for your race is through solicitation letters, but that isn’t the only way. While on Cape Cod for the PMC, we passed a lemonade stand on our way to a popular beach. Some kids set it up to raise money for their dad’s PMC ride. I also heard riders at the PMC talk about hosting pancake breakfasts and donating services (yardwork, babysitting, etc.) in exchange for donations from neighbors. Locally, some fitness instructors have donated the fees from a group class to their cause. Think outside the box if you do not feel that you can meet your goal through straight donations. Where there is a will, there is a way! And every little bit helps. Lastly, don’t forget that some companies will match charitable donations made by their employees – be sure to suggest that donors ask about this possibility in your solicitation letter and follow up as needed.

Be patient. Some people will donate immediately upon receiving your donation letter, and that is great. Most, however, will not. Some people pay their bills at the end of the month, and will wrap it up with their regular bill paying. Some people like to do it closer to the event. Some people do not want to donate until after you have completed the event. Some people mean to donate and then forget until something jogs their memory. It’s tough, and it can be nervewracking. Keep the faith, though, and be prepared to send out periodic reminders (see below).

Be considerate. Not everyone can or will donate to ever cause that crosses their path. Yours may move them, or it may not. Or maybe it moves them, but they just can’t contribute. As much as you want to collect funds for your dear cause, make sure that you don’t isolate family, friends and colleagues who choose not to contribute. It doesn’t make you or your charity look good.

But be (politely) persistent. The truth is, though, you will probably have to send reminders about your fundraising in order to meet your goal. Everyone is busy. Everyone is inundated with e-mails, letters, facebook updates. Your solicitation might roll off the radar of people who do in fact want to donate. My advice is to send period reminders in as unobtrusive way as possible. Facebook updates are great for this. People are reminded that you are fundraising, but don’t feel that you have “targeted” them as someone who has yet to donate. Colby and I posted pics of us on Facebook during our PMC ride and a lot of people donated that very weekend. A mass e-mail to your original solicitation list works well, too – again, no one feels like you singled them out as a non-donor, but you still get your reminder out there.

Be helpful. Make donation as easy as possible for your donors. Send an e-mail with a link to your fundraising webpage, if you have one. If you post about your fundraising on Facebook, include a direct link to your fundraising page. For members of the older generation, who might not use the internet as readily, send a written letter with a stamped self-addressed envelope to make donation easy for them. People will definitely be more likely to contribute if they don’t have to deal with logistics beyond writing the check or punching in their credit card number. Make it as easy as possible.

Be grateful. Send a thank you note. A friend who donated to my PMC ride last year commented on the thank you note I sent her and mentioned that although she has sponsored many people in fundraising events, it was the first time a runner/rider had sent her a thank you note. I was appalled. Everyone should send a thank you note. It does not reflect well on you or your cause if people are not properly thanked for their donation. Be sure to let them know how much their contribution meant. And if you can include any personal anecdotes in the note, even better. Let your donors share in the experience that they helped you achieve.

If I can do it, anyone can do it. Hopefully these tips will help some other reluctant fundraiser decide to take on the challenge. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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4 thoughts on “Racing for a Cause

  1. Pan Mass Challenge 2014 here I come!!! I just pulled the trigger. And I LOVE your post T. Perfect timing. Here’s to a DECADE Riding….and to YOU for YEAR 2!!!! I can’t wait. Xoxo

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