Sporting Charities: Do’s and Don’ts

17th November 2014

Gen Blanch – Empirica Research

Whether it’s a 250 km run across a desert or a 5km run around the MCG, an increasing number of charities are using sporting events and physical challenges to raise money for their cause. The success lies in the numbers: in 2011, the Melbourne Marathon raised $288,332. In 2014, this grew to $1,000,000. The increase may be attributed to participation rising from 27,500 in 2011 to 32,000+ in 2014. However, it may also be attributed to the public catching on to the appeal of supporting a cause while doing something they enjoy. 

With such tremendous generosity and willingness to give to charity through participation in sport, it is vital to go about charity fundraising through sporting events the right way. 

I’ve raised funds through two sporting events. One was a 10-day hike across the Victorian Alps to raise funds and awareness for an inspiring Outdoor Education Centre known as Mittagundi, and the other was the Melbourne Marathon. These challenges, plus two years at Empirica Research analysing statistics on charity giving, have taught me a lot about the “dos and don’ts” of fundraising for a charity through sport. Here are some key lessons I’ve learned…

Do: Remember where the money is going

Don’t: Don’t be distracted by the physical challenge alone

One of wonderful things about sport and charity fundraising is that you can have a lot of fun and do something good for your health while raising funds and awareness for a cause that is important to you. Genius! Every year the Melbourne Marathon has a major charity plastered on every bit of equipment, plus four support charities and numerous others that register with their fundraising webpage partner. English based organisation, Sports Relief, raised a record-breaking £71.8 million in 2014 to support a range of UK and international causes. This successful event incorporated running, swimming, cycling and/or donating in an effort to raise money and awareness. Despite being tainted by recent revelations Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has contributed upwards of $580 million to fight cancer and each year the Foundation holds run, ride and triathlon events. Run for the Kids (supporting the Royal Children’s Hospital) and the Mother’s Day Classic (supporting the National Breast Cancer Network) began to raise crucial funds and awareness for their respective charities.

Do: Be as passionate and committed to a charity as you are about the sporting event.  

Don’t: Fundraise for the sake of fundraising, without honouring a cause that matters to you.

Before charity fundraising even crossed my mind, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to the distance of a marathon. It was only once I had committed that I thought I should probably raise money too. One year on, I can’t even recall the name of the charity I supported but I could tell you my marathon time and average split down to the second. Mittagundi was a different story. I had been on a girl’s course at the age of 15 when my insecurities were in overdrive and Mittagundi gave me respite and ten incredibly rewarding days. From this I developed a passion to help support this commendable organisation and raise funds so that 15 year olds from all walks of life could share the same amazing experience I had. The ten-day walk across the Alps was the product of my passion and in the lead up I managed to raise much-needed funds and awareness…the marathon charity choice was not based on passion. Always go with passion!

Do: Send individual/personalised messages to those who mean something to you.

Don’t:  Hassle loose friends and acquaintances via meaningless generic Facebook appeals and emails.

It was only after I had hassled ALL my Facebook friends (yes all of them – it’s possible – Google it) with meaningless generic messages about helping to raise funds for X charity while I run a marathon that I realised how meaningless and lazy my efforts were.  Raising funds through a Facebook event, linked to a random fundraising webpage might be somewhat effective, but it does little to raise awareness for the charity or convey your passion. Be passionate, support a cause you believe in, and tell people why it’s important to you.

Do: Be humble

Don’t: Show off

When I set up my Facebook fundraising page for the marathon I was more concerned about looking good to my Facebook friends than supporting the cause. The value we place on perception was most obvious during the Ice Bucket Challenge, a fundraising effort for motor neurone disease that took the world by storm. Juan Carpio, a behavioural science specialist from Warwick Business School, identified some key elements in the psychology behind the Ice Bucket success. He suggested making your charitable behaviour visible was a driver to feel good about yourself, and in recommending this charitable action to your friends, you are also recommending a positive aspect of yourself. However, this doesn’t devalue the huge recognition and support ALS/Motor Neurone Disease received during the campaign, it just means our efforts might have been more about us than the charity. Fundraising through sporting events is easily done in a humble way, where the focus remains on the charity and not on the feat.

Do: Publicise the names of the donors if possible, and publicise high donations

Don’t: Forget to acknowledge your donors

A little tip in order to increase your donations comes from a study by Cotterill, John and Richardson (2010). They found in their study on behaviour surrounding charitable giving that people donated more when the names were made public compared to when they remained anonymous.  Similarly, Croson, Handy and Shang (2009) found that donors tend to make high contributions when they believe others have made high contributions.  By making the higher contributions public, you may subtly encourage higher donations…sneaky behavioural science for a good cause!


Juan Carpio article:

Cotterill, John and Richardson (2010):

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