In it for the long run: choosing your charity

Jane Bainbridge

Untitled 116 300x128 In it for the long run: choosing your charitySince the London Marathon began in 1981 more than £500 million has been raised for charity through the event. As well as it being an incredible sporting endeavour, the marathon has turned into a significant revenue-generating and promotional opportunity for the third sector. Each year about 13,000 places (of the 36,000) are taken up by official charity runners; all taking on the task of not only training to complete the 26 miles but also raising thousands of pounds in sponsorship.

But using the race to raise money for a charity is not limited to runners with official charity places. Those lucky enough to get a much-coveted ballot slot will invariably use the opportunity to fundraise too.

So it was I started to think about which charity I’d support in my bid to complete the 26 miles. For those old enough to remember, like the nurse given the desperate task of choosing starving babies to help in the 1984 Ethiopian famine that spurred Bob Geldof to start Band Aid, each one seems so deserving.

This time I’ve opted for Shelter and the decision boiled down to three factors. I felt that pretty much any other level of support was fairly meaningless if one didn’t have a roof over one’s head; the changed political landscape has made homelessness feel a particularly acute problem; and I know someone who works there. So that was my logic.

Another friend is running for the children’s bereavement charity Winston’s Wish because she felt it was a chance to raise money for a smaller charity, less in the limelight. Years ago a work contact whose child had been very ill in Great Ormond Street signed up for the marathon as his way of paying them back. He ran the race with a photo of his boy and a photo of the child in the adjoining bed — who had not survived — attached to his running vest as his motivation.

Since I started this blog, I have been contacted by various charities all with incredible stories to tell of personal achievement and dedication.

But much closer to home, at a party recently I got chatting with a man I’d seen sprinting up the steepest hill in our local park. This particular hill — dubbed Death Hill 3 by my child’s cross-country group — is hard enough to walk up, never mind run up repeatedly, so the obvious question was ‘why?’. He explained he was training for an ultramarathon. Now it’s not often I feel that taking on 26 miles is small fry, but on this occasion I did. This ultramarathon is 56km (34.8miles).

But Max Tomlinson has every motivation. His boy, Jaspar, has severe cerebral palsy and Max is embarking on the ultramarathon to raise money for specialist treatment for Jaspar . In previous years Max, and his friends, have taken on numerous physical challenges to raise money for a school Jaspar attends so fundraising has become part of his life.

There are thousands of people out there, all with their own tales to tell, who really put in sweat and tears to help others less fortunate than themselves.

Call it Big Society, call it what you will, but it’s amazing — and worth remembering next time you get an email asking for a donation.

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  • Jake_K

    All very good examples and reasons – but for those without a personal connection to a particular cause, may I suggest a dispassionate look at the proportion of donations received vs the money spent on the charities own staffing, admin, management etc.

    So, if you give £10, how much gets through and how much gets used up in admin (also a good approach to government spending but we don’t have a choice over that!)

    For example, a huge multilateral charity based in the US, Food For The Poor, which assists with food, clothing, education, housing, prison counselling etc in the Caribbean and Latin America only spends just over 3% of receipts on admin – nearly 97% reaches beneficiaries. On the other hand the NSPCC spends 25% of receipts on admin so only 75% gets through.

    (NB I am not suggesting comparing the qualities of the causes of various charities, just the effectiveness with which they spend your money)

  • DeetDustDate

    @Jake_K – Like you I wholeheartedly champion efficiency in the use of charity funds. But I urge caution in comparing bottom-line admin costs without knowing how the numbers were reached. Different organisations (and it differs even more by country) calculate their admin costs in different – and sometimes ingenious – ways.

    Moreover, low admin costs don’t always lead to greater efficiency. I work for a tiny charity in Zambia which has a near zero admin cost, and I’m banging my head in frustration at the setbacks this causes. Without the admin funds to pay for stationery, salaries, phone calls, internet (which I’ve paid for myself), audits, etc, we move two steps backwards for one step forward. Recently we couldn’t afford to replace a broken lock (admin cost) and then most of our meagre equipment was stolen.

    So when choosing who to run for, I recommend that you pick a charity you care for, check they are accountable (UK accounts are all on the Charity Commission website), and then trust them to do a good job.

    Best of luck Jane!

  • Ellen Marshall

    When I won my ballot place I had a really tough time choosing who I wanted to run for. I’ve fundraised for various charities in the past, so it made sense to pick one of them – but which one? As you point out, all are equally deserving because they’re all helping someone or something, and no one can definitively say that one cause is better than another. I decided to run for Anthony Nolan in the end, as I’d come into contact with their work whilst at university and I thought it was really important, but also (as mercenary as it sounds) they offered runners some fantastic incentives, such as free entry into the Adidas Half Marathon.

    In the interests of full disclosure, when I visited their website to sign up, I actually noticed a vacancy in their Communications department which looked really interesting. I was lucky enough to get the job, and now, six weeks in, after talking to a lot of people who’ve been affected by blood cancer, I’m glad that I can do something small to help others like them.

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