If you take a place in a marathon and don’t raise what you pledge, then you should pay

Marathon fundraising is a nightmare.I’d
rather run one than fundraise through one again after my experiences this year.

While an exceptional minority raise
thousands of pounds to feed orphans, I’ve found that the majority take the few
places we have and don’t raise enough money to cover costs never mind feeding
orphans – something I’m sure their donors wouldn’t be happy about.

And some others haven’t even bothered to run it.

What they fail to understand is that it’s a
reciprocal partnership.I spend hours calling runners to show appreciation
for their support and help them fundraise.I’ve sent them running vests
which have never been worn and hired post race reception areas which stood
empty after runners stayed at home.

I struggled to even get places, eventually
securing one through a marketing package by advertising Msizi Africa to ‘own
place’ runners on the London Marathon website. Dozens of people
applied.We gave it to someone who pledged £2,500 – but raised £801.Thankfully
the person was apologetic and set up a direct debit to pay this pledge off.

I was sure this wasn’t unique to our
charity and the London Marathon would help charities protect themselves, so I
contacted the organisation and suggested it put a downloadable agreement on its
website whereby the runner, regardless of what charity they’re running for, is
contractually obliged to make up the minimum sponsorship on their credit card
if they fail to fundraise enough.

Its response was I shouldn’t depend on the
London Marathon to raise funds. I don’t, and I’m sure other charities don’t
either, but I felt it dismissed my concerns and I realised I was on my own.

Places for the inaugural Brighton Marathon
in 2010 were easy to secure and organisers were helpful.Four runners
raised £7,000 so we happily bought more for 2011.Three were taken by a
senior banking figure, the founder of a luxury food company and a
celebrity.They told us they’d reach and smash our target – then ignored
months of emails and calls from us.

The former two told us five days before the
race they weren’t running; we never heard from the celebrity.We lost an
immeasurable amount of money as they could have raised thousands.

I wonder what the true loss is for
charities nationwide. If you take a place and don’t raise what you pledge, you
should pay. I would like to see race organisers present this to potential
runners as their policy – if it’s left up to each charity to implement their
own protective measures, runners will simply refuse to sign it and run for a
charity without such an agreement.

Charities shouldn’t have to protect
themselves against so-called fundraisers – we’re busy enough caring for our

Lucy Caslon, founder and director of Msizi
Africa, a charity feeding orphans in Southern Africa

  • Michael Hodgson

    I agree and disagree. In the cases you’ve shared, it’s clear that the charity put in the effort with the runners. However, there are cases though where runners feel isolated and disengaged and so don’t bother, and this is where the extra costs of running places exist.

    Engaging the runners in the cause is key. I know of plenty of charities with runners in other events who each raise little if anything, but it’s seen as a success because they have so many runners that the overall figure is strong.

    The best running fundraisers tend to be those that are doing the challenge because they really want to raise the money first.

    Of course, sometimes life takes over and good intentions fade – but it’s the charity’s responsibility to give a bit of love – and tough love to their runners.

    For one of my most successful running teams we held a team briefing, early on, where training tips were shared, along with some stories of what the runners efforts would be achieving when they hit their targets.

    I’d set targets, unlike the other charities in the same race. Our limited numbers of places cost us money, and the runners knew we needed to make that back, and make more besides.

    I did have one person who I thought was likely to drop out, and simply said straight – if you think you’re not going to manage, tell me now, as I have a waiting list of other people who would love a place. In the end that seemed to help show the value of what they were doing and they beat their target.

    From that event we raised 70% as much as another charity who had more than 5 times as many runners.

    You’d said that your ‘runners’ ignored calls and emails, and to me, there would be a point when a letter goes out saying you’ve got a week to contact us, or the place goes to someone else (worded a bit differently). In the case you gave of the banker food company and celebrity, Lucy, I’d be tempted to send an invoice!

    Having said that there’s a balance to strike. Sometimes people do put in the effort, but simply fail to make it – my credit card certainly couldn’t take a £2000 hit – and in my view it’s wrong to contractually oblige someone to that.

    I think a target and underline the moral obligation is a neater balance. Perhaps a deposit to cover the costs so that worst case, you’re not out of pocket. It also helps with transparency. Some people still think that charities get their places in events like the London Marathon for free. If your runner knows that it’s cost you £1000, so you want them to raise £3000 and put down a deposit for the £1000 they get a better picture of how the charity works and what you’re facing.

    Or am I wrong? Runners, marathoners, sponsored cyclers and abseilers. What do you think?

  • Rob Cope

    Interesting article, Lucy.

    I was proud to run my first marathon this year for I CAN. I’ve raised £2,500 incl. Gift Aid so far and still going, but it was certainly very tough.

    I don’t think that people should be made to pay the difference. In the long-run this may erode the goodwill shown towards the sector.

    However, I think charities should move towards a model whereby fundraisers must hit a fundraising target by a given date, perhaps 1 January. If they fail to hit that target, the marathon place is handed to someone on the reserve list.

    This gives an incentive for the participant to start their fundraising earlier – and therefore more likely to reach their eventual target – and avoid problem of emails and calls being avoided for months with no comeback.

  • Peter Collins

    As a runner who races (slowly) a fair bit, who has occasionally run for charity and is a Third Sector staff member (so pretty sympathetic to the charities on this one), I would like to sound a note of caution on this. The first thing that strikes me is that the senior banking figure, company founder and celebrity are of rather a different order to your average charity runner, with rather more wealth backing them up and probably a wider range of contacts (which makes them doubly bad for apparently backing out of the deal). The only other person mentioned specifically, presumably not a banker, company owner or sleb, agreed to pay the balance themselves, even though they weren’t engaged on a charity-only basis, having got the place themselves (so I’m not sure what legal force you could bring to bear on someone who did it that way). I have no idea how widespread a problem this is, but I do fear that asking for legalistic back-up might be cutting off your nose to spite your face. The London Marathon, as the most obvious example, is extremely popular, oversubscribed by many times. I personally have no particular worries about charity connections with this race – to some extent, they make it the festival that it is. But I fear that within what we might loosely call the running community I am very much in a minority. There is a small minority of runners who take the view that there should be no specific provision of places for charities and it should be up to individual runners to decide whether or not their efforts should be rewarded with donations to a cause. However, a much larger proportion feel uncomfortable with the penetration of the concept of running for charity into what they perceive as ‘their’ sport. It’s clear, too, that a large number of people – having, say, failed in the ballot for the London Marathon – will attempt to get a charity place for no other reason than that they want to be involved (I hope that doesn’t sound cynical, but I believe it to be true). These are the people who will be turned off by the thought that legal sanction awaits if their efforts don’t bear fruit.
    My personal opinion is that some of these charity places are pitched too high – raising a few hundred pounds isn’t that difficult; start talking £1500 to £2000 or more and you’re asking someone who’s spending a large proportion of their time training to run 26 miles to commit even more to squeezing cash out of friends, families and colleagues. That can be a tough ask, even for those who really are committed to raising the money and don’t intend to disappear.
    I fully comprehend the problem outlined, but I wonder if the ‘protective measures’ suggested might simply be counterproductive in the circumstances, not to mention the economic climate.


    “We lost an immeasurable amount of money as they could have raised thousands”

    You cannot lose something that didn’t have in the first place. It’s diappointing that the charity did not receive the money but it didn’t ever actually have it.

    I appreciate that it must be distressing to get your hopes up about fundraising activity only for people to let you down, but the suggestion of forcing people to agree to make up the difference themselves seems to go against the spirit of what fundraising is. Surely you should appreciate what funds people do raise for you rather than implementing penalties for people who are unable to meet targets which may have been overly ambitious.

    If there are high costs involved for securing marathon places, look at alternative fundraising activities. Why send out expensive vests and hire venues? If money is so desperately needed perhaps consider spending it on more worthwhile causes than venues and clothing.

  • Lucy Caslon

    Thank you for your comments! It will shape how we approach running events in the future.

    Michael – we found places for the British 10k were affordable and easy to secure so we bought 18 places and all 18 runners raised smaller amounts each which contributed to a large fundraising income. It was a great event for us. We’ll focus on the British 10k from now on – a large number of people rather than focussing on just a few. Our runners ran the Marathon after meeting me to find out about the charity and feeling compelled to help. They decided their preferred method of fundraising was a Marathon. I think they may have underestimated the challenge of a Marathon and you could argue they dropped out without realising the impact this would have on the charity – but we stressed the value of the places, they knew we had to buy them and there was a cost involved. They themselves said they would be a safer bet to give our places to because of the professions they were in and their access to high net worth individuals meant they were more likely than an average runner to achieve our target and actually beat it.

    We’ll definitely take the tough love approach! I agree with both you and Rob – deadlines are a brilliant suggestion. There is a date after which you can no longer change the names on the places. We will now make sure we monitor fundraising totals in the lead up to this name change deadline – if we find at this stage that the runner is not on course for meeting their target, we will give the place to someone else. A deposit to cover costs is very wise and again, we’ll look into doing this.

    Rob congratulations on the Marathon! I agree a contractual obligation may erode the goodwill shown towards the sector and that would be damaging. However, when a charity loses out it erodes my goodwill towards the Marathon as a fundraising event – my only experiences of it are bad, which, given the general success of the event and the good it does for charities, is unfortunate! As I’ve said above I’ll definitely work on your point about the deadline and a reserve list.

    Peter maybe I’m misunderstanding but the other person I mentioned was the London Marathon runner who did get the place through us (not themselves in the open ballot) so they certainly were under a moral obligation to us. That said, if they had come to us through their own place then of course they’re not obliged to meet any minimum and that’s when any amount of money is a bonus. I agree that many runners may well have to resort to taking charity places as they’ve failed in the ballot so their loyalties to the charity are less – but they’re still under an obligation and it’s sad they feel they don’t have to live up to this.

    The targets are high – raising thousands of pounds is extremely difficult – but runners are told about the target at the start of any conversation when they offer to run for us, ultimately they decide to take the place armed with this knowledge. If places were easier to come by it wouldn’t be such a fight to get places – but because it is so hard to get a place when you do, especially as a small charity, that place becomes precious, valuable, your ‘golden ticket’ to really boost your fundraising income and that’s why larger minimum sponsorship levels are set.

    Rebecca, we appreciate whatever funds people raise – of course we do. Our supporters go to considerable efforts and we know we couldn’t undertake any of our work in Africa without these incredible people.

    But I do maintain we lost out. We gave places to people who said they would raise money – in the spirit of fundraising – and they didn’t. Had we given the places to people who had accepted the reciprocal nature of a Marathon and raised the money they said they would, we would have benefited – we put the target in place to help us plan financially.

    You’re right – we didn’t have the money I say we ‘lost’ – but that’s the whole point in fundraising. Charities never just ‘have’ money and must fundraise to make money to achieve their objectives. The Marathon is just one way we fundraise – we invest in places, recruit runners and set the minimum sponsorship which goes into our projected income in our budget. If we give a place away to someone who says they can raise £2,500 that’s £2,500 worth of work we believe we can fund – so we have lost out because we now have to make this from another source. It wasn’t a gamble – we didn’t buy a lottery ticket hoping to win big and fund our work. We engaged in highly successful fundraising event that enables thousands of charities to achieve their objectives – but ultimately were let down by people who unscrupulously took our places and raised no money. We couldn’t possibly have known this was going to happen.

    Ultimately it’s up to the person to decide if the target is overly ambitious and whilst I appreciate £2,500 is a lot of money, this is why the places were given to high net worth individuals with access to other high net worth individuals. Nobody held a gun to their head to accept the places and they indicated they were more than comfortable with this target and actually threw around figures of £10,000.

    We do have a great variety of fundraising activities as we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket – and indeed we don’t (most of our income comes from the corporate sector). But when we took on the Marathon we had to be able to offer runners what other charities offer – running vests and to offer them refreshments after given the huge physical exertion they had been under – if we hadn’t then we wouldn’t have recruited these runners in the first place.

    It’s a really difficult topic as the Marathon can be so lucrative, but there are also a lot of charities let down. I’m definitely avoiding the Marathon until we put the suggestions above into place, to see if they work on smaller events. Then we may dip our toes into Marathon fundraising again!

  • Lucy Caslon

    Peter – I see that wasn’t clear!

    The marketing package advertised us to own place runners, and for that, we were given a place. So the person who took our place was under an obligation as a charity place runner.

  • Peter Collins

    Lucy, I think you’ve cleared up one point, and I take your points on everything you’ve said. My fear, however, is that however much people go into this with open eyes, what you ARE proposing is holding a gun to their heads after the fact. That might be fair in the cases of those who do absolutely nothing or very little to raise any money, but seems to me to be counterproductive in the cases of those who do work hard to get the money but, through no fault of their own, don’t manage to make the limit: asking them to pay the balance would probably leave them with a negative image of the charity, not forgetting the word of mouth that goes with that – and word of mouth goes a long way in this world of twitter, facebook and the net in general. I would also argue that one of the huge benefits of the London Marathon is an unquantifiable one – awareness. I would imagine most charities seek gold bond places with one eye on donations, another on a group of runners in vests emblazoned with the name of the charity and with a very visible support group along the route. It’s the sort of visibility that’s priceless, but whose benefits could be destroyed by harsh treatment of those who don’t raise enough.

  • Lucy Caslon

    Peter – thank you for your comments, I totally agree that lots of people struggle to raise their total despite putting in huge effort. Our runners put in none, and I know they’re in the minority. Also agreed on the awareness front – but that’s fine if you’ve got lots of places and the public see a stream of running vests from the same charity. If you’ve only got one place you become very protective! I really struggle with this one – I don’t want to say “we’re too small to get involved in Marathons” because there are other small charities (some even smaller than us) who get involved in the Marathon. I just don’t think we have the luxury of that balance between awareness and fundraising that charities with more than one place have. Genuinely stuck on how to move forward with Marathon fundraising – I think smaller events are better for us to focus on but there must be a way to get involved in the Marathon that doesn’t sting us so badly!

  • Oliver Henman


    Thanks for raising these questions, we’re really glad that you’re highlighting the potential opportunities to use EU funds to increase the resources to target those areas that need support at this time. This is a crucial issue and we want to make sure we can get the best for all parts of civil society.

    My team at NCVO has been pushing to unlock new funds and develop a greater role for civil society within the next cycle of EU Structural Funds over the past year, since the merger with the Third Sector European Network took place in September 2011 to form our European Funding Network.

    We’re going through a detailed process to shape the next round of funding, and we’re working in partnership with the regional members of the European Funding Network, including Network for Europe in the North West, VONNE in the North East, RAWM in West Midlands among others. The group came together for a national conference on 27 April, called ‘Back to the Future: Civil Society Engagement in Structural Funds’ at which point there was a joint call for a specific funding stream for civil society in the next round of EU funding.

    Since then, we have been in contact with a number of partners and potential match-funding bodies to explore the possibility of a greater role for civil society across the country. This includes an initial conversation with the Big Lottery Fund on the role that they might play in the future programme.

    We are now preparing a series of regional events in the autumn, to continue the process of consultation and look forward to connecting with all civil society partners in defining priorities for these potential projects.

    You can see all the relevant information on our website: http://www.europeanfundingnetwork.eu

    The proposals will then be shared with BIS as part of its role as the government department which is responsible for negotiations on the overall EU programmes.

    We believe that this is an opportunity for civil society to play a more active role and to access additional sources of funding; and we agree with you that it’s important to find ways for much more EU funding to be available to local organisations right across the country!

  • Big Lottery Fund

    For BIG’s part, we have held informal and exploratory discussions with NCVO and with BIS about whether we might play a role helping civil society organisations better access EU funds. No decisions have been made about whether or how BIG might be involved. Whatever BIG does here, our decision will be entirely of our own volition, guided by the additionality principle and for the benefit of communities and individuals most in need.

  • James Renton

    I must admit I am familar with both lottery and EU programmes and I can not figure out what this is all about? If it is this is about using lottery funding as match in an arrangement similar to ESF Co-financing. It would only work if the Lottery gave their cash to third party or managed the EU cash and their own cash. Either way they would have to ringfence x% of their budget for this purpose. If it was the later your concerns would be partly alleviated i.e. its Big Lottery managing EU cash and trying to make it work with their funds for the VCS. The need for specialist knowledge about EU rules means there is no long term benefit to managing this cash locally better to manage it in one central office with local/regional allocations.

  • Quartny Thornberry

    I have been a long distance runner for over 16 years and it is because of greedy charities that I refuse to ever run for a charity. I think it is wrong to demand runners raise such high amounts of money. I can ask my friends to donate, but most do not have the means to contribute to make the amount that most charities request. I have, rather, spent my time training diligently and have since been able to qualify for London under GFA. However, I think this ridiculous standards set by charities completely excludes good people that would campaign enthusiastically for a given charity…simply because they do not have the means to reach this ridiculous goals. Charities should be grateful to distance runners that take any time out of the training required to run a marathon to raise money for them. The whole point of a CHARITY is the fact that it is designed to be dependent upon the good will of others to give. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that this is the mindset of charities, seems like the thought is one of entitlement.

    • e5otericdviant

      I’m a beginner runner and one day would love to run for charity and would like to be able to go down the fundraising route.

      I understand the need to fund raise but I can see that keeping costs to a minimum would also be beneficial for runners as they know that the money would go to a good cause not be chewed up in administrating the day, a certificate and medal would be all I’d care for, I’d happily pay for my own bar tab afterwards.

      Please try to keep costs to a minimum so that people like me who will try hard will meet your targets easier, I also think that a personal target for fundraising is just that its personal I don’t want it held over me like the sword of Damocles, I’d rather just know what a happy minimum would be and just set my own target.

  • Mark Coombes

    I sympathise, but some tolerance of runners who genuinely struggle to raise the money is key I think. I signed up to a charity place in 2015 I really struggled to raise about £1800 of my £2500 from events, friends, family and colleagues .. only for my employer to withdraw their verbal agreement of donating £500-1000 with just a couple of weeks before the marathon. I put my body through hundreds of hours of training, picking up plantar facitis (which i still have now) and raised what i consider a pretty decent chunk of money and was made to feel really shit by my charity after the event. I will only ever try to get a ballot place from now on and would advise anyone without rich relatives and/or work for a large company full of generous emloyees or live in an affluent area to think carefully about whether you can raise the money.
    Some method of advertising places that aren’t being used would be good (?) surely replacing an empty place with someone who might be able to raise some amount of money would be better than nothing? As someone that would love to run it again I find it painful to hear empty spots not filled.

    • tptoodle

      I totally agree. When I heard about paying money from your own pocket after failing to raised the pledged target i was a bit disappointment. I feel I would rather run for my own health and pay a tenner or 20 to a charity later.
      I will never ever run for a charity where I have to pay from my pocket for the difference I originally pledged for.
      This whole system sucks.