With Marathons Canceled, Nonprofits Are Keeping Their Fundraising Running

With events like the Boston Marathon canceled due to Covid-19, nonprofits are getting creative with their endurance fundraising campaigns.
©RYAN HUTTON 2012

The cancellation of nearly all major 2020 marathons has been devastating for nonprofits whose supporters raise millions by running in third-party organized events. (Boston, Chicago, New York and London alone were expected to yield over $200 million for charities this year.)

Managers of peer-to-peer fundraising endurance programs have scrambled to keep runners engaged and bringing in some donations.

In most, but not all, cases, race organizers are giving registered 2020 charity runners the option to shift their participation to 2021 or 2022. And some events, such as the New York City and Pittsburgh marathons, are providing runners with an opportunity to complete their events virtually and collect pledges from donors in the same way they would if the races were still happening in-person.

“The charities all have missions they need to meet and we want to make sure we provide a venue for all of our charity runners and charity partners,” said Jordan Olander, marketing and charity communications coordinator for P3R, which organizes the Pittsburgh Marathon. “We’re working to provide a sense of community for our runners and our runners have really stepped that up.”

Here are some ways nonprofits are trying to keep their programs – and their fundraising – running this year even if participants can’t line up at traditional starting lines:

 

Hitting 2021 goals in 2020

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago is encouraging supporters to move forward with their fundraising and challenging them to meet their revenue goals this year.  (The group had 230 athletes committed to run before Covid-19 hit.)

“Ninety-nine percent of the people I spoke with are going to stick with their original minimums,” said Jonathan Harris, director of the foundation’s Team to End AIDS endurance program.

To help keep its athletes engaged, the organization is offering the same support it normally provides such as training plans, coaching sessions, and hosting (of now socially distant) training runs.

“The better connected we are with them, the more successful we will be,” Harris said.

The hope is that many of the athletes who meet their minimum this year will continue to raise money in 2021. But even if they don’t, the money raised is helpful right now.

“We’re really seeing that people are looking forward to next year,” said Paul Purdy, American Cancer Society’s strategic director of endurance events. “We want to get them signed up and fundraising now. If they can fundraise now, it’s very helpful because it’s money in the bank this year, even if the event doesn’t happen until 2021.”

 

Leveraging matching gifts

There is no doubt that Covid-19 is going to sharply reduce the amount of money raised by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Team Challenge program.  The group hopes that an aggressive matching gift program will help bring in a portion of the $3.4 million it raised last year.

“We’re utilizing donation-match opportunities the foundation has received from generous donors,” said Cindie Barbera, senior director of fundraising campaigns and volunteer engagement. “The short time period and end date [with matching gifts] has helped participants share the urgency with their donors to have their contributions double their impact.”

 

Launching stand-alone virtual endurance campaigns

With a slate of 50 third-party endurance events and 40 of its own events under the DetermiNation banner, the American Cancer Society is among the nonprofits that have faced the biggest disruptions this year.

One of its many strategies to keep supporters engaged is to create enticing virtual endurance campaigns.

In June, it hosted “DetermiNation Runs the Country.” Participants were asked to set individual one-week running mileage goals that would contribute to a collective goal of logging enough miles to traverse the United States.

Participants could sign up for $25 and earn additional incentives, such as T-shirts, for reaching specific milestones. More than 400 runners collectively logged 9,943 miles – enough to run across the United States more than three times. The campaign raised about $64,500.

Purdy said ACS is now building on what it learned for a similar – and larger – campaign from July 20-Aug. 16 called “DetermiNation Takes on the World” – as well as some similar events surrounding cycling.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to build the infrastructure so we can keep virtual as an added benefit long-term,” he said. “With strategy and key learnings from this first campaign, we are excited for where this will take us in 2020 as well as building the structure for renewing these initiatives in 2021.”

 

This article is a modified version that originally appeared on Forbes.com

 

David Hessekiel: I had a “Eureka!” moment in the months after 9/11, when I realized a growing business need: a clearinghouse where corporations and nonprofits would find the building blocks for strong, win-win partnerships. I founded the Cause Marketing Forum (now Engage for Good) in 2002 and it has become the world’s leading resource on building mutually-beneficial business/nonprofit alliances. Since that time, our events, online offerings and membership program have helped thousands of executives gain the practical knowledge they need to succeed, make valuable connections, and honor outstanding accomplishments in this expanding field.