Three years ago, in early summer 2013, I ran my first half-marathon, which was also my first ever endurance event. I hadn’t walked as much as a 5k going into it.
Today I spent four hours volunteering with set up for the Grateful Dad (a hippy themed Father’s Day race) to earn a free entry into one of Terrapin‘s future races. One week from today I’ll head back to my favorite place in the world – no, I’m not exaggerating this – Sunriver, Oregon to take part in the Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival. While I’m not training with Team In Training this year, I have their program to thank for getting me to the level of physical fitness and drive that I have today.
After finishing my first half marathon, Rock N’ Roll Portland, in May 2013.
Now, $6k spread across three years and three races probably doesn’t seem like a lot and it is nowhere near what some of my teammates have been able to raise. But I’m proud of it because I had to work to raise that. In some cases that meant actual physical work! For me, the hardest obstacles to fundraising weren’t physical but mental. I am an introvert. When I signed up to do Team In Training in 2013 the training wasn’t what daunted me even though I was new to the race world. The fundraising was daunting because I didn’t feel comfortable asking people for money. I HATED it. And while it’s gotten easier it’s still never been something I feel comfortable doing.
Here’s how I did it.
Straight Up Ask for Money
While this is my least favorite way to fundraise it requires little effort and is the best place to start. Make a list of contacts; people you speak to on a regular basis, friends and family members. I like the handwritten letter approach because it’s more personal but this method could be done through email. If you really have the time, personalizing each letter is a really nice touch. If I knew the friend I was writing to had lost a loved one to blood cancer, I would offer to honor their memory by writing their name on the back of my race shirt – symbolically carrying them across the finish line. When you ask someone for money, you have to get used to hearing “No”… or in the case of a letter, just never hearing back. If you do hear a “No” you have to understand that it’s not personal. Perhaps this person has just donated to several other causes this year and they’re tapped out. Maybe they just can’t spare the money. It’s not personal. People will surprise you. The wealthy relatives you expected to donate might not but that college friend who is just starting out in their career? They might throw in $10 or $25. Ask everyone you feel comfortable asking, and don’t assume who will and will not give. An ask is just that. It’s not a demand.
Get Creative with a Raffle
During my Fall 2015 Season with Team In Training I asked both local businesses and friends and family members for in-kind donations. This can be a great option for someone who can’t spare a monetary donation but still wants to help out your cause.
Gifts in kind, also referred to as in–kind donations, is a kind of charitable giving in which, instead of giving money to buy needed goods and services, the goods and services themselves are given.
For my raffle I got gift baskets from local businesses (Starbucks and Stash Tea), and put together gift baskets comprised of items I’d won myself or wasn’t using (new water bottle, a gift card to a running store, makeup samples from Sephora, a bottle of vodka) and items that were gifted to my cause by friends and family (wine glasses, bottle of wine, brand new exercise ball). I asked people to make a donation of at least $25 dollars to be entered into the raffle. Several people participated and I was able to raise a few hundred dollars this way. A majority of the people who donated won a prize, so it was a win for them as well!
Get on the Streets and Panhandle
This I was really nervous to do. It’s tricky because you have to get lucky and find the right spot. On my first attempt back in my Spring 2014 Season I tried a freeway on-ramp outside Bridgeport Village with a teammate and got nada. During the Fall 2015 Season I tried a freeway off-ramp at Keizer Station just north of Salem with another teammate and we got over $75 in about an hour’s time. This same teammate and I had earlier tried a sidewalk just outside the Woodburn Outlet Stores and were shooed away by mall security. After that we tried the sidewalk by one of the exits from a parking lot and got minimal money. It was about $2.50 for over 30 minutes of time. Location matters A LOT. Private property won’t do. It has to be a public sidewalk. On another occasion during Fall 2015 Season a different teammate and I tried the sidewalk outside the Fremont Whole Foods in NE Portland. This sidewalk technically belonged to the store as it was between Whole Foods and the parking lot, not the parking lot and the sidewalk. But we went in and talked to management and they gave their blessing as long as we weren’t approaching people or hassling them (we stayed in one spot with our signs and buckets). For this we made over $50 in about an hour’s time. I later went back again on my own and made another roughly $50.
Sell Your Own Wares
I’m not crafty by any means but I can bake. During the Fall 2015 Season I took custom orders for healthy cookies using nut butters from Nut-Tritious Foods, a business owned by family. I offered to make the cookies vegan or gluten-free upon request. I was able to make $60 making 4 dozen cookies at $15 a batch. I also sold books to Powell’s City of Books and clothes to local resale shops and donated the money I made to my own fundraising efforts. I was able to raise about $25 this way.
Partner with Local Businesses for a Percentage of Sales
This is where things can really take off when it comes to fundraising. Lots of restaurants – Panda Express, California Pizza Kitchen, Old Spaghetti Factory, Chipotle and Burgerville come to mind – will partner with you for fundraising nights. This is done one of two ways. Burgerville is the only one I know of that does it the better way. They will donate 10% of sales between the hours of 4:00 and 8:00pm (typically) on a weeknight of your choosing (except Fridays) from anyone who walks in the door. Usually you help out by being in the store during those hours, helping deliver food and bussing tables. Burgerville will also sell Team In Training “blood drops” at the register for an optional additional donation to anyone who wants to purchase one. You make 100% of the donations from blood drops and someone could choose to spend $1 or as much as $20 on one. It’s up to their generosity. Most restaurants do fundraising nights by offering some higher percentage of sales (usually 20% to 50%) for an evening or a whole day but only to those people who mention your charity or fundraiser when they order. This can work half decently if you can get an entire office or large group of friends to eat at the same restaurant on the same day for lunch or dinner. One of my teammates was able to make flyers about her fundraiser and pass them out to people entering the restaurant while the fundraiser was happening, and those people probably mentioned it. But most restaurants won’t let you do that. You can tell every single one of your facebook friends you’re having a fundraiser at X restaurant but unless they decide to eat there that night and ALSO mention your fundraiser you won’t get any donations. I did a fundraiser at California Pizza Kitchen during my Fall 2015 Season and used my birthday as a way to get a huge group of people in and ensure donations. It worked but even so at the end of it all, I got a check for about $70. Compare that to Burgerville. The worst one I did, where they only sold 20ish blood drops, still made over $200. At another Burgerville the staff got really laser-focused on selling the blood drops and my teammate and I ended up with over $1,000 in donations!
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Blood Drops covering the wall at Burgerville. This is the location that made my teammate and I over $1,000 in donations!
Some businesses – Sees Candy, Jamba Juice and What’s the Scoop? Ice Cream in Portland are a few – offer a product-selling fundraiser. In the case of Sees Candy and Jamaba Juice you have to purchase the product (chocolate bars or gift cards) at a discount and then sell them at regular price. You keep the difference, which becomes a donation. During my Fall 2015 Season two other teammates and I did a fundraiser with What’s the Scoop?. Here we didn’t have to put out any money. We took orders for $8 pints of ice cream (four flavors available) and gave the completed orders back to staff at What’s the Scoop? For every pint we sold, What’s the Scoop? donated $4, which is 50% of sales. Not bad! Purchasers had to stop by the shop during a 3 day time period to pick up their pints. My teammates and I made a little over $100 doing this. When split three ways it wasn’t great for the amount of effort involved but I could have done it by myself and then $100 would have been great.
Keep Your Blog Up-to-Date and Post on Social Media
This one’s really simple. When you join Team In Training you’re given a blog where you can track donations and write updates to keep friends and family in the loop about your progress, both physical and fundraising. I’m a writer so the idea of blogging was one I was already into. But writing there helped keep me focused and engaged. And when I posted an update to Facebook? Well, I got a few donations that way. It was less than $50, but it all adds up in the end.
At Mile 12 of the Pacific Crest Half Marathon in June 2014.
Finally, I think it’s important to understand that when you fundraise with Team In Training you’re getting “free” race registration, T-shirt and dinner the night before the race. For this reason I like to donate to my own fundraising the rough amount that will be spent benefiting me personally. That way any donation from family, friends and strangers is truly going to the mission. This isn’t something you have to do but I like to.
I was inspired to write about my fundraising journey because it wasn’t easy but I did it. I did it while working at nonprofits where I wasn’t allowed to solicit donations (lots of teammates fundraised at their work places) and while making an entry-level nonprofit salary. I did it despite being an introvert who hates being in the awkward position of asking people for money. In the past couple years as I’ve broken into this “run-walking” thing I’ve talked to a lot of other runners and walkers. Not all of them have done Team In Training and for many of them, the idea of fundraising is too much to handle. But if I can do it, so can they. I’m not trying to sugar coat anything. It is a challenge. There’s a reason I am taking this year off! But it is so rewarding. The training you get and the friends and contacts you make are so valuable. When I’m ready to make the leap from half-marathons to a full marathon, the first place I’m going to sign up is with Team In Training.
Sam, Kristen, Rachael, me and Karlene during the Nike Women’s San Francisco Half Marathon in October 2015. I helped train these ladies as a mentor during the Fall Season.