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Fundraising | Niki May Young | 19 May 2011

Race for Life entries are down, and it seems Cancer Research is not alone in this predicament. Niki May Young ponders why running events are losing out this year...

I ran around 10k this Sunday, although I wasn't entered into an event. Instead I was helping to organise the annual Heroes Run on Brighton sea front and spent most of the day chasing marshals, lugging signs, moving barriers, racing to the finish line with some cordon tape to add to the ceremony of our first genuine runner to cross the line.

This year we had around 1,000 runners which is not to be sniffed at. But I have to admit, despite the attraction of a themed run, where everyone dresses as their favourite superhero...or as Jesus or the Flintstones as the case may be, attendance dropped by a few hundred from last year to this.

It's worrying. The Heroes Run is our main fundraising event and we are committed to raising funds for three school projects in Africa this year. But selfishly, at least we're not alone.

The highly-publicised and usually highly-popular Race for Life event series launched an emergency appeal for runners this month, following the cancellation of two events and merging of 19 due to low sign-ups. Cancer Research was also forced to cancel its Run 10k series late last year, stating that it had come to a “natural conclusion”.

It all begs the question, why the drop in interest? There's certainly not a shortage of runners - you need only look at Clapham Common on an average evening to see the number of fanatics proudly displaying their chisselled thighs to the less athletic amongst us. But I wonder if sponsored runs are suffering from sponsorship fatigue... after all, there are only so many times you can be asked to sponsor people for the same thing before it becomes less of an impressive challenge and more of a common annoyance.

Increasingly people are forced to 'think big' and be creative about their fundraising activities, with many looking to  extreme events to get the sponsorship juices going. 

With this in mind, I look to Passing It On, the charity organising the Heroes Run of which I am a trustee, to see where we can improve and build on the prior success of our race, which at its best has seen 1,500 superheroes pile to the seafront.

We have a theme that is easily transferred to other amusing and challenging events. A strong-man competition perhaps, a tug of war, an endurance challenge, a spiderman climb... all of which can be added to the Heroes Run to create a Superhero festival.

Having witnessed the downturn in interest for sponsored runs this year it's time to reflect, adapt and improve to secure the future of our charity. And this is what all charities must do in these particularly challenging times.

Niki May Young is website editor at Civil Society Media.

It struck me that you may want to see some of the frivolity of 1,000 people dressed as superheroes. So click the thumbnails below to see full size...

 

Heroes Run 2011
 
 

Will Chapman
Founder
Waterway Watch
20 May 2011

When I was Chairman of London Road Runners during the boom years of running events in the '80's we organised charity runs virtually every weekend and it wasn't unusual to get at over 1,000 runners even without the massive publicity that events get today. I was also National Race Director of Sport Aid in 1986 which attracted over 600,000 runners around the UK. We started the the Manufacturers Hanover Corporate Runs in London and used to get around 5,000 runners on a weekday evening.

Without a closer look at the way you promote your events I would guess that the reason for declining numbers is not so much 'charity fatigue' per se as it is that you are asking too much of participants. For example, you probably lost more runners than you gained by asking them to dress up in fancy costumes. Also I see that many events charge entry fees that are too high and others set minimum targets of fund raising (hugely popular events like the London Marathon might get away with the minimum fund raising targets but not lesser events).

Niki May Young
website editor
Civil Society Media
20 May 2011
Response to [Will Chapman]

Hi Will, thanks very much for your comments. The costume element has always been the base of our run and until this year we have seen numbers increase steadily from the first event six years ago. While not to everybody's taste (which I suspect is what you are getting at) to those who do participate it is the best part of the event, we issue prizes for the best costumes and people make a lot of effort. Our run is also one of the cheapest around at just £16 entry and people can choose to raise sponsorship or not, we think it should be a choice.
However our growth for the run has its limitations. The maximum capacity is 1,500 due to council restrictions and with a rise in numbers of previous years, not enough has been done to satisfy the crowds in the periphery. This is what we aim to change, particularly as we attempt to expand the brand across the South Coast.
Thanks again for your comments which are gratefully received.

Rob Dyson
PR Manager & social web
Whizz-Kidz, CharityComms, Third Sector PR Network
19 May 2011

I'm really interested in how (or if) we communicate low event sign-ups, and particularly in CRUK's decision to go so large on the issue.

I blogged about the Race for Life advertising campaign http://bit.ly/jlgnVW - where Jo Sefton of the Race for Life team told me, "We took the decision to be bold in our messaging as this year the charity is significantly down on numbers for our Race for Life fundraising event series [...] If we compare our participation figures to last year we are 15 per cent down on where we were."

Interesting that other commenters were of the mind that it was all spin and marketing. Nonetheless, it raises some debate as to how transparent we are with our supporters and when / if fundraising marketing steps into 'emergency mode'.

Niki May Young
website editor
Civil Society Media
20 May 2011
Response to [Rob Dyson]

Thanks Rob, that's a good point that you make about transparency.

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Niki May Young

Niki May Young was employed by Civil Society Media as website editor from March 2010 until July 2013.

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