Fundraising for charity events
January 16, 2015 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about fundraising for charity walk/run-type events.

I've verbally agreed with a friend to do the Pan Mass Challenge this year. Before I officially sign up, I want to get a handle on how difficult the fundraising aspect is going to be. The fundraising minimum for the ride is $4,500, which seems pretty daunting. How do you raise that kind of money without pissing off friends and family? Is this a doable thing for someone who's fairly quiet and not terribly comfortable "putting myself out there" for fundraising purposes? How can I get through the fundraising part without feeling... well, dirty?
posted by backseatpilot to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
96% of those who take part in events like these as participants end up covering the full cost of participation themselves. That is from Team in Training, who raise money for AIDS research. You can find far less expensive donor-centric athletic activities but you have to be willing to dig a little.
posted by parmanparman at 5:21 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

It definitely takes a LOT of networking and a lot of asking. I've done it before for $3000 for the NYC marathon, and it was a big pain in the but. Having generous family members helped, because larger donations means that you have to ask less people.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:33 AM on January 16, 2015

Come up with a wacky costume to wear while doing it. Take a picture of yourself in said costume and put it on Facebook and ask for donations, promising more pictures for contributors. Santa, a turkey and a rabbit are perennial favorites. Speaking for myself, I'd donate unprompted if I got some funny pictures of a friend or family member out of it.
posted by arnicae at 5:37 AM on January 16, 2015

I raised money for a walkathon a few years back, and offered gifts like I was running a drive on PBS. Donate $X and I'll send you homemade cookies, that kind of thing. That was fun.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:38 AM on January 16, 2015

Best answer: Set up a low-pressure way for people to donate online and make it very clear that every contribution is welcome and appreciated no matter now small. You can do low-key things like changing your FB profile picture, sticking a flyer in the window of your car or at your workplace. If people are interested, they'll ask you about it and maybe donate. If they're not, they don't have to have the awkwardness of turning you down.

Arrange ONE event (a trivia night with a raffle is always good) where people can come and make a contribution to your drive but still get a fun evening's entertainment/socialising out of it. Make it clear this event is happening before you start your drive. I'd be annoyed if my friend asked me for money and then also asked me to an event where I would be expected to contribute more money. Remember that people can help you organise a fundraising event with their time/skills and that will take the edge of asking for help in the form of money only. Ask local businesses for raffle prizes, etc.

I personally am getting a little tired of sponsoring people to do things that are actually their own life-long ambitions (run marathons, climb Kilimanjaro, etc). Like, why am I paying for your vacation? You could correct this (hopefully false) impression by being honest and making it clear you are contributing x% of the registration/required minimum out of your own personal money, and explaining why this cause is important and altruistic. "I've always wanted to do a big bike ride like the Pan Mass Challenge. It's a great cause for $charity which means a lot to be personally because $reason. I've raised $dollars of my own money by selling my $valuedpossession and now I need your help to meet the target of $4,500!"
posted by bimbam at 6:02 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Frankly, I find it annoying when other people ask me to sponsor them, mostly because I'm financially strapped, but also because I have problems with many of the big charities (or even little ones, for that matter). See, for example, the scams being run by Komen and the Red Cross. I don't want to support these groups, and I resent being pressured by friends / family to give money to them.
posted by alex1965 at 6:09 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Aside from the above excellent advice, I'd say to start asking early in the year, like now. I am not the only person in my age group (29-34 ahem) who sets aside a certain amount of money per year for friends who do these sorts of things, and once it's gone, it's gone.
posted by juniperesque at 6:16 AM on January 16, 2015

Best answer: I did a sponsored Vancouver->Seattle ride for about $2500, but I did find getting the funding was daunting, as someone who doesn't feel overly comfortable with networking or self-promotion, even for a worthy cause. I had a few generous donations from family as well as providing a generous donation myself - I felt it was only fair I put in at least the amount that a similar ride's race cost would be.

The most successful fundraising thing I did was a 50/50 raffle at work - it's a chance for people to indulge their altruistic and selfish sides simultaneously, and is something that can be easily organized over email, in break rooms, and doesn't take too much time or effort while still being a fun thing at draw time. There's also a network effect where if you give people updates on how much is in the pot, more people will chip in as the figure rises. Gambling psychology used for good, basically!

Other less successful things I tried - organising a themed house party with a small token "entrance" fee. Not as recommended, it's hard to navigate as a social situation, and it was hard to make it seem special enough to warrant a ticket price that covered costs and resulted in a substantial donation.

Bake sale - this wasn't too bad. Baking is fun and cheap, and a lot of people are actually used to paying for heavily marked up baked goods. It's also something that's fairly easy to rope people into helping you with without it being much of an imposition.

Good luck! I found the fundraising process stressful and not a natural fit for me, but it was interesting to get out of my comfort zone, and seeing bystanders on the ride who were or had families affected by the disease waving banners and saying thank you and cheering people on was really heartwarming and rewarding.

Best of luck!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:16 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a friend who did Team in Training. It is NOT easy, mostly because lots of us are hit up for this sort of thing frequently. If you know folks who you can count on for large contributions, that would be a great help. Also, see if your employer offers matching contributions. Quite a few do, as do the employers of folks who are going to contribute to you as well.

Anecdote: My friend Nini was running the Team in Training Marathon in Anchorage, and had to come up with some serious scratch. She and a fellow runner decide to hold a HUGE fundraiser, a Halloween dance party. She and the friend rented a huge ballroom at a catering hall (a nice one, and when I say HUGE, it was HUGE.) She expected about a thousand people to show up. They had catered, passed hors d'oeuvres, a DJ, and cash bars (plural.) So I bought a ticket and offered to read tarot cards as a mini fundraiser for her. I causally asked the night before the deal how many tickets she had sold. I was told, 'twelve.' I gasped. I said, "can you cancel it? That way you'll only lose your deposit." She said, "Oh! I'm not worried, with all the radio publicity I'm sure we'll have a crowd." Know how many people showed up? Nine. Four couples who were friends, and a random guy who creeped us all out. I made more money with the tarot readings. The staff outnumbered us. It was catastrophic. So they were out a couple thousand on the party AND they still had to pay the fees. Both ladies paid a majority of the money out of their own pockets.

NIni has a huge family and network of friends, we were in sales, so shy we ain't.

For sure, try your best to raise the money, but they may make you sign a contract that says that you'll get the money for them, whether you raise it or if you have to pay out of pocket.

If you're even a fraction uncertain, offer a largish contribution to your friend and back out. There's no shame in admitting that this is not in your wheelhouse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:17 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, another thing - if you can, see if there are any teams doing the ride you might want to join. The team I was pooled a certain % of their group fundraising to help members who had a fundraising shortfall. They also provided structure with training, fundraising advice and so on - it's easier than doing it solo.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:26 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (I'm involved in this stuff for my work -- directly in the past, indirectly now.)

First of all, congrats on stepping up to take part in a new challenge, and help people out while doing it! That rocks.

The fundraising target is relatively hefty for an individual. However, people even of limited means do meet it all the time. It may be hard work depending on what people you have access to, but asking them will be easier than you think and will definitely be a memorable experience -- it might even help you to put yourself out there more often and get you some more new friends.

Contra Parmanparman's figure, at least in the organisations I've worked for, the majority of participants -- I don't have a solid figure but I'd estimate 66-75% -- were able to meet all or most of their costs through fundraising even when the targets were quite high (and most of the others were people who could afford to cover it themselves, and preferred that to fundraising).

With that said, once you sign up you *are* on the hook for that money so you have to be prepared just in case, for whatever reason, you do end up having to foot the bill. If that would cause you serious problems, there's nothing wrong with backing down and opting for something more attainable; I'm sure your colleague will understand if you have to reconsider your initial offer having gone over the figures realistically.

For similar reasons, if you do go ahead, try and avoid setting up large, expensive fundraising events that may risk losing you money, especially if they also require a social/time investment from people. It's hard to get a good ROI that way. Jon Mitchell's and Ruthless Bunny's stories are good illustrations of why. As far as possible everything about the process of being told about the event and asked to donate should be quick, easy and optional.

The good news if you go ahead is that nowadays, there are a lot of tools to help you with your fundraising and it's my impression that people in general are more open to giving more substantial sums for events like these. I'm not familiar with what's available in the US but in the UK you can set up a fundraising/sponsorship page through sites like JustGiving and VirginMoney Giving; similar solutions are sometimes set up by the charity/event organiser in question. These let you present a spiel about what you're doing and why, display your progress, let people engage with you by leaving supportive comments, and are generally a good thing. They typically charge fees, but they are typically low and I'd consider them very much worth it for most people.

Likewise, many employers offer donation matching schemes (usually with a limit that may or may not apply to you) which can really make the difference in reaching your target; as well as providing more cash in themselves, it makes people's contributions feel like they are worth more, so they're more likely to give. In the UK we have the Gift Aid scheme which automatically matches 25% of donations by taxpayers -- it's worth looking into whether there is anything similar where you are. Jon Mitchell's advice to consider fundraising as a team -- either with people you know, or likeminded internet strangers -- is good and can reduce your risk.

So, now some more general individual fundraising tips.

This -- both the event and the fundraising -- will be a significant event and commitment in your life and it's good to make sure people see and understand that; they will give accordingly. If it's just someone mumbling awkwardly to them and holding out a clipboard and trying not to impose or cause a fuss, most people will not be inclined to give big amounts or pay much attention. However if the event is clearly a part of your life, something you are really looking forward to, working hard towards, and generally conducting in a public way, their social and personal incentive to give substantially is much greater. You don't have to go crazy about it and have a total personality shift, or pester people, but the more interest you build and show in a visible way, the more people will give you more attention and loyalty. This is partly a matter of making the preparation for the event part of your lifestyle, and partly a matter of 'branding' considerations. I know 'brands' are pretty yuck, but in this case they serve a good cause.

Once(/if) you commit to this, make that commitment/decision itself a notable event to the people who know you. Make a Big Important Post on Facebook or your equivalent of choice about it, clearly explaining what you're doing, why, and why and how people should help. Cross-post to Twitter and wherever, send an email around work and/or your family and friends, and from then on keep sending out periodic (but not too frequent or pushy) updates on the subject -- just in general, make it so when people think of you or talk about you, they think "oh yeah, and they're doing that charity ride soon!". This should be done a good while, but not *too* long, before the event itself. Maybe 3-4 months?

Build that hype! Set up a fundraising page and link it in your email/forum signature/FB status/web profiles/etc. Make a logo, a slogan, pick your team colours and wear them all the time, put a sign on your bike, your desk, your car window -- whatever works to make this a 'thing' that seems big, important and worthy to people and that they will want to associate themselves with and contribute to. Even if this isn't the way you usually like to present yourself, if it's for charity then people will usually think well of it, as long as you're not specifically inconveniencing them. It helps if you enjoy the process, the training, and the anticipation, and make that clear -- if it helps, most people find they *do* come to enjoy those things, even if they can be hard and unfamiliar, especially at first.

Encourage, thank and reward people for spreading the message -- network effects will significantly help you find more potential contributors. Have a central place -- ideally a fundraising page as above -- that can be easily linked to by other people and which will quickly deliver clear information about your fundraising.

Be prepared to answer questions about the event, and the charity itself. Most charities are above board and perfectly worthy, but there are perceptions -- usually, but not always unfounded -- that some or even all charities are a waste of money, corrupt, etc. Be ready for people to ask you about that. Also have an answer to people who question why they should pay for you to do something you enjoy. I guess my own answers might include: a) I want to do it because it's a challenge and it will be tough, not because it's a cakewalk; b) Enjoyable, fulfilling events like this attract more people and more funds; c) It's straightforward to measure my training and my success in the event itself; d) I couldn't/wouldn't do this kind of event without it being managed by a competent, experienced organisation; if they raise money as well, that's a good thing! e) It's what my friend is doing and I wanted to take part with them; f) If it raises money, what does it matter if we're riding bikes or driving hot nails into our feet? Suffering is not compulsory. Giving is a good thing. g) No worries, thanks for your thoughts and I hope you'll at least give a thought to my aching butt on the day! Have a sticker!

You may find it useful to supplement your fundraising with smaller, more immediate events that it's easier for people to see and engage with. Since it's a cycling event there are a lot of options; for example, start cycling to and/or from work if you don't already, or do a long ride every weekend, and again, announce this as something you're doing for charity, track and announce your mileage/speed, encourage people to give you 10c per mile or something -- whatever you can do to get people engaged on on-board.

Then, for example, you could send round an email to all your contributors or interested people (make sure you keep track of them!) before the big event, asking for a last, and possibly larger donation. Some may find it annoying to be asked more than once, but on the other hand, established contributors *are* more likely to give. To minimize problems, give advance warning that you intend to do a final round of fundraising and be diplomatic about it.

As per ThePinkSuperhero, and as also seen with e.g. Kickstarter and Patreon, gifts and tokens are a great way to engage people (although take care to manage your overheads of time and money). Bonus points if it's something -- like even just a badge or sticker -- that will in turn publicize you. Encouraging people to join you on e.g. the smaller rides I mentioned above, is also a great way to engage people as they will get a feeling of participation/contribution, and an idea of what you are setting yourself up for, without having to commit to the main event. Likewise, if you can persuade people to turn up to the event to cheer you on, hand you water bottles, or whatever else, they will be more likely to contribute cash as well.

Don't be afraid of making a big ask. If you only ask for $5, people will only give that, and if you came back again they might be like, "I already gave you $5!" But if you say "Would you consider giving $100?" they're more likely to say, "Sorry, I can't but what the hell, here's $50". If you don't specify any target at all, you're not likely to get more than pocket-change.

It helps to make it visible how much you're trying to raise, how far you are already, and how hard you're working to earn this money. You might say, for example, "I'm already putting in $500 of my own, and I need to get $100 from 40 people, or $40 from 100 people, if you're one of them I'll send you photos of the event and a copy of my thank you letter from the charity." Or "Hey, rich uncle/generous boss/established charity-giver, I'm X far along with my fundraising target for the big charity cycle ride -- if you're able to contribute $250, that'd be 5% on its own, it'd give me such a big boost, and you'll a special mention on my fundraising page/I'll write your name on my bike so you can come with me in spirit!" Or whatever fits in with your setup and the people you talk to.

Of course, you do have to balance this with what amount of pressure people will find reasonable, and make clear that they can take the option to give nothing, or only a little, without being stigmatised or looked down on for it. Everyone has their own reasons and circumstances. For this reason, it's good to ensure people don't have to respond publically. But in this world where good things need doing and it takes money to do them, don't be ashamed, in principle, to ask. And unless you have access to hundreds or thousands of prospects, it needs to be a more substantial ask than a couple bucks.

Set aside time beforehand -- i.e now or soon -- to plan out your options, make schedules, and make the best use of your time and effort, and revisit the plan periodically to see how it's working and make any needed changes to it.

Stay positive, stay busy, stay optimistic. Get support and advice from your friends and family, the event organizer, veterans of similar events (check the relevant forums!), and the internet, if you're finding it hard or want new ideas. And above all, enjoy yourself and get everything you can out of it. Good luck, and congrats in advance!
posted by Drexen at 7:31 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

My ex-spouse did one of these things in the days before Facebook and GoFundMe and the like, and this was the biggest moneymaker: Make an official-looking Certificate of Sponsorship and go around to a bunch of businesses. The big chain stores have money that corporate allocates for this exact sort of thing, and the small stores love putting that stuff up on the walls to prove how civic-minded they are to the community.
posted by Etrigan at 7:41 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

A couple of other random tips for the hell of it:

It is easier to ask for decent-sized contributions if they have the opportunity to pay in small, manageable installments -- I believe JustGiving and VirginMoney give the option to do that, or they can set up a standing order (you may be able to print out forms for this from your bank to make it easier), or you may be able to set up a direct debit -- again, not too sure how these things work in the US. Or you can just ask them to send multiple payments -- though I'd encourage you to ask them to make some assurance that they will pay, given how it might affect your target-tracking.

Also, the other big advantage of online fundraising services is that they provide a portal for people to pay online, which these days most people are more comfortable with and is more compatible with FB, email, etc. If you don't go with one of them, at least use a paypal account or some other online payment option. JG/VM also have the advantage that they hold the donations and then transfer them directly to the charity, so there's no risk of the fundraiser keeping or losing the money. Although now that I think of it you may have to check with the event organiser whether that will actually be counted towards your target, or if you need to be able to pay all of it from your own account.
posted by Drexen at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2015

Response by poster: Alright, I bit the bullet and officially signed up. All of the advice here was very helpful with the decision, and I'm going to come back to it as the fundraising efforts ramp up. Thanks everyone! I still think this is going to be a challenging effort, but hopefully ultimately rewarding.

If anyone's interested in donating, drop me a line!
posted by backseatpilot at 6:20 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, the PMC happened about a month and a half ago. The fundraising was not a success - the cut-off date for donations is October 1 and I'm still short by about $2,000. Most of what I did raise came from emailing everyone I knew; we held one fundraiser event that raised about a thousand dollars for the two of us, but in the end it wasn't enough.

The fundraising ended up making my summer incredibly stressful, and while I can absorb the financial burden this year it's not something I can reliably do year over year. I won't be doing the event again because without having more confidence that I can raise the funds, I simply can't afford it.

I spoke with a lot of people during the ride, and the general impression I got was that most people joined a team at work, and most of those jobs were financial related (so, lots of money floating around). My company does not provide any sort of support - they're legally not allowed to - so I was out of luck there. My network wasn't large enough to help, even my extended family didn't respond to my emails which was very disappointing.

It was a good experience, but I guess ultimately I'm just not cut out for this kind of effort.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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