Top Ten Tips to Raising Money for Charity

By Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher of the United States raised a combined US$45,000 in the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2007 and the Gobi March (China) 2008. Tom's basic message to fellow RacingThePlanet competitors who wish to raise money for charity is to keep it simple and be passionate about it.

Here are Tom's Top Ten Tips for Raising Money:

1. Be Passionate About the Mission of the Charity. 

Identify a charity that has meaning to you. Check out their website, their board of directors, staff and scope of activities. You must be passionate about the mission in order to be an effective fundraiser.

2. Contact The Charity. 

Contact the charity and see whether they are interested in raising money through your participation in a RacingThePlanet race. (Sometimes the cost-benefit isn't worth the effort necessary to make the fundraising campaign successful.) Keep in mind that most charities already have a year's worth of fundraising events in their calendar. They know already who their big donors are and when they want to ask for a donation. Therefore, an invitation to a charity to use the extraordinary RacingThePlanet event may not excite the charity given its annual fundraising strategy.

3. Let the Charity Take The Lead. 

Ask the charity if it will take the lead in soliciting their own donor base, as well as your list of potential donors. Getting ready for a RacingThePlanet race is a part-time job, so try to reduce the amount of time spent raising money for charity to the extent possible.

Some charities have established a web-based fundraising platform for athletes competing and raising money for the specific charity. A good example of this strategy is Paul Newman's charity, The Hole In The Wall Gang, a free summer camp for kids with serious illness. 

4. Form a Committee. 

Participating in a RacingThePlanet event is a "once in a lifetime" experience for friends and family. Ask a small number of friends to act as a fundraising committee and to work with your charity in executing a thoughtful fundraising campaign. More helping hands the better. This technique takes a little work to organize, but try to get the day-to-day administrative responsibilities spread around to other people in order to reduce the number of items on your pre-race "to do" list. Raising money is a numbers game. The more asks, the greater the likelihood of raising money.

During the race, make sure the charity follows your day-to-day results. I strongly recommend blogging during the race in order to give your support-base the "touch and feel" of your experience.

5. Make It Easy. 

Try to make your solicitation of donors as easy as possible by using email letters (linking into the RacingThePlanet race link, add pictures) and the charity's Donor Page. This is fairly common in the U.S. for marathons, triathlons and walk-a-thons.

6. Contacting Donors. 

Some potential donors would rather be called on the telephone or sent a letter. Know your donor and communicate with them in the format that the donor prefers.

7. Going It Alone. 

I've heard some RacingThePlanet competitors discuss starting their own U.S. not-for-profit organization. This idea sounds good on its face; however, it is wrought with administrative, legal and tax challenges. First of all, there are over 1 million not-for-profit organizations in the U.S. covering almost every imaginable mission. Check out www.guidestar.org for background on 1.7 million charities.

Second, it takes a lot of legal work to incorporate a charitable organization. A board of directors and officers need to be secured. After this step, a technical tax questionnaire needs to be completed and filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for its review and determination whether your organization qualifies as a bona fide charity. This process takes on average 9-18 months. This IRS usually requires a tax attorney or accountant to complete. The most challenging long term activities are administering the organization, being razor sharp on accounting for donations and sending out tax letters to donors, and satisfying a host of other important issues. As you can see, it's a substantial commitment of time, money and personal hours to establish a U.S. not-for-profit organization. It is not impossible, but it is a real commitment.

Another option for those trying to raise money is Network for Good. See http://www.networkforgood.org/. This entity serves as a "pass through" for charitable giving and takes a small percentage of each donation, sends out a tax letter to the donor, and accounts for the total giving for a specific project.

Almost all communities in the U.S. have a "community foundation," which serves as a vehicle to raise money for local charitable activities. Competitors can contact their community foundation and ask what it will take to create a designated or restricted fund (within the community foundation) related to your RacingThePlanet event. Often the community foundation will take an administrative fee for providing the "pass through" service. See https://www.cof.org/community-foundations

8. Combining Corporate Sponsorship and Raising Money for Charity. 

Some competitors are successful in getting one or more companies to sponsor or underwrite the costs of participating in a RacingThePlanet event. Some corporations have identified one or more charities that the corporation and its employees donate money. Competitors should invite corporations to underwrite your expenses and in return, you and the corporation can use the RacingThePlanet event to raise money for the corporation's designated charity.

9. Follow-Up With a Thank You Note and Post-Race Communication. 

After I completed the Atacama Crossing 2007, I asked a volunteer to take my picture after crossing the finish line which showed me holding a "Thank You" sign I made with the Finisher's Medal around my neck. When I got home, I sent a personal note and a copy of this picture to my donors. They appreciated it very much.

10. Post-Race Debrief. 

Do a de-brief of your fundraising effort to see what worked and what didn't, and why it didn't work. For example, in the Atacama Crossing, I had five different charities using me and the race to raise money. The result was that only two of the five dedicated the time and effort to raise substantial sums. For the Gobi March 2008, I focused on just one charity and that worked much better for me. Also, ask yourself whether raising money for charity helped your RacingThePlanet race experience or whether it detracted from your experience. This is important, as each competitor needs to find the right balance in their life regarding your family, work, training and relaxation.

Conclusion. Raising money for charity while participating in a RacingThePlanet event has been incredibly rewarding for me. It's not easy, but it is surely worth it.

Reasons for racing for charity:
Earn funds, and support, for a charity, and the fight for a cause
Provides purpose and motivation for running
Raises awareness for charity
Run with support from the charity

Advice:
Start early
Ask others to help- include other racers or teammates
Find out how and where charity allocates donated money- The more information the better
Set-up matching system with others or companies
Make efforts high profile- approach newsletters, newspapers, etc.