Running and Charity – to do or not to do

I think we’ve almost all run for charity at some point, we’ve all asked for sponsorship and we’ve all pulled our hair out trying not to have to stump up our own cash to reach donation levels or to get people to donate.

We’ve also probably all sponsored runners too because we like to support our loved ones or friends but I’m a little concerned about the way that running and charity seem too often to be linked.

Don’t get me wrong I think that running for a charity is a lovely idea and that raising money for worthy causes is increasingly necessary in these times of austerity.

However, more and more the races I’d really enjoy doing are placing demands on us to drum up cash. The classic example of course is the London Marathon. I’ve now attended the London Marathon (as a spectator) about 10 times and always enjoyed it, the elite racers, the club runners, the fun runners and the comedy runners but each year the presence of charity has gotten larger and the presence of running has gotten smaller. How often do we hear about how hard it is to get into London? Or on race day to get a rhythm going as you try and avoid the plethora of giant chickens or whatever mascot is being highlighted. I realise that the charity aspect of London is vital and perhaps it’s the VLM USP but it could be that the balance between running and charity isn’t quite right.

If we consider the amount each individual is required to raise this is some commitment – in quite a short space of time. As I understand it each charity is charged several hundred pounds per place they are allocated and they do need to ensure they get a decent return on investment – but imagine if you told somebody they could have a place at the London Marathon for just £2000 in the ballot – they’d think you were mad. However, tell someone they can have a guaranteed place but need to raise £2000 and suddenly that’s okay. I’m not so sure.

It’s not the only one though – lots of races from the Age UK 10km series through the Race for Life to the British Heart Foundation runs all have fundraising at their core and not running. I would love to have run the Tower of London recently but was put off by the requirement to fundraise. Even ultras are starting the process of becoming more charity friendly – the London to Brighton Challenge and its sister races all have ‘fundraising packages’ – again this leaves me a little cold, a race I really want to do but the fundraising element is a bit of an issue.

Plus just how often can we keep going back to the same people asking for cash? And I realise we have bake sales, charity BBQs, just giving pages and events which help but for people who live already hectic lives it’s just not always viable that we can spend the rest of our time baking, tweeting our charity pages to strangers or whatever to raise charitable funds. And yes I’m fully aware that the charities themselves help you out in information and support about how to raise cash but you’ve still got to find the time, you’ve still got to have the capacity.

What about the human endurance element and shouldn’t we celebrate this by supporting a persons preferred charity? You’re pushing your body and people respect that and want to support you (in amongst other ways through charitable donations). But I’ve seen a number of requests for people doing 5km races and still asking for donations – I’m not opposed to this but I feel if running is going to be used as a tool of charity then it should be for the spectacular stuff. And I’m fully aware that for some people 5km might be spectacular but I think it perhaps needs a little perspective. Most of us have a finite pot to draw from, so where do we draw the line? For me that line lies in the spectacular.

Spectacular Running?
@peteralton88 ran dozens and dozens of marathons last year dressed in his vibrant pink get up for Breakthrough Breast Cancer! I ran past him at the 2013 Kent Roadrunner, what a guy. He did something truly extraordinary and deserves sponsorship.

@ChiltonDiva who has run a series of endurance and road races in support of Ovacome – each time pushing her boundaries that bit further – is an inspirational runner. The fact she’s supporting a great charity and racing lots of times give you a sense that she is really working for the funds she’s raising. Awesome and well worth supporting.

The dozens of runners who do things like Brathay 10in10 – 10 marathons in 10 days, that’s awesome! The skill and tenacity needed to do something like this is bordering on unimaginable.

I can understand and really get behind truly inspirational endurance – this is deserving and needing our support.

Bigger Picture
Perhaps it comes to the bigger picture. Charities clearly need runners, especially the smaller charities. Successive governments have failed to financially aid our need for research, care or support to the level that we as a society demand and the shortfall is picked up by charities. So far this year I’ve donated to fifteen different runners and (because of the Virtual Running) more than 20 different charities and I’ve been very happy to do this because the runners I’ve supported are running for charities I believe in and/or are exceptional human beings doing something awesome.

But let’s also not forget that as a country we are incredibly generous – Sport Relief, Children in Need, Comic Relief, the National Lottery, endless charity shops. Given the amazing amount of charity we engage in I’m disappointed that some races and runners are looked at as fundraisers rather than sports people.

So what do I do for me?

Possible solutions include:

Avoid the races where I feel guilty for not being the type of person who can raise money with any great capacity? However, should I be punished because I don’t want to hammer my friends bank balances because of my running obsession?

Should I just donate the required amounts to reduce my feelings of guilt?

Should I stop donating to lots of runners so that I can focus on one – me?

Should I spend all my time making new friends who I can then press for donations?

What’s the answer?

I’m not so much of an arsehole to ever suggest we shouldn’t run for charity, not at all, I’m just suggesting that running is running and fundraising is fundraising and while the two can work beautifully hand in hand please don’t penalise us if it’s not our thing.

I realise this post is unlikely to make me the friends I need to turn to for donations but as a final point I’d like to extend my huge respect to those that do run and fundraise regularly – you guys deserve all the plaudits and I am sure it’s not just myself who is in awe of you.

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