Let’s talk about… the London Marathon

Jo Barnett, Executive Director of Virgin Money Giving, looks at how charities of every size can capitalise on the largest annual fundraising event in the world.

The Virgin Money London Marathon is the one event every charity should be able to leverage to drive donations. The event has such a strong association with fundraising that even runners who get a place through the public ballot, rather than through a charity bond, still raise a significant amount for good causes. When somebody says they are running the London Marathon the natural response is to ask them ‘who are you running it for?’ I can’t think of many sporting events that have charity so tightly woven into the experience.

Not many people know that Virgin Money Giving was actually borne out of the London Marathon. When Virgin Money took over the sponsorship of the race in 2010 we were keen to do more than just paint the town red with our logo. The more we looked at the event and the incredible amount of money it raises for charity, the more we realised – as a financial services company – that Virgin Money could use its resources to really help make a difference. So we launched Virgin Money Giving as a non-profit digital giving platform to support London Marathon runners in raising more for charity and also support fundraisers taking part in hundreds of events across the UK and further afield.

The London Marathon has grown to become the largest single annual fundraising event in the world, which last year raised a record £61.5m for good causes. The size of the event can sometimes be intimidating for smaller charities, which often ask me for tips on how to make the most of the opportunity. My answer is always the same – it’s all about your story and the stories of your runners. It doesn’t matter whether the charity is big or small, people always respond to personal stories. So pick people who really want to run for you, rather than just want to run. Also, let the London Marathon press office know who is running for you and why – they are always looking for opportunities to tell inspiring personal stories.

The other thing I always tell charities is to get in touch with their runners as soon as possible. The earlier a participant sets up their page and starts collecting sponsorship, the less chance there is of them dropping out and the more they will raise. Once they take that first pound they are committed. It is also important that you keep in touch with your runners all the way up to April – the worst thing that can happen is that one of your runners gets injured or decides not to run and you don’t find out in time to reallocate that place. We have some tips for how to keep the conversation going here.

At Virgin Money Giving we’re always trying to develop tools that will help fundraisers and this year we have invested in new tools for their fundraising journey which will offer them an enhanced experience. Fundraisers on our platform will find it easier to share their stories on social media, update content and add photos while on the move. And to help you make the most of your places we will be launching a charity hub where you can promote their participation either in the Virgin Money London Marathon or other events.

To meet the growing fundraising needs of London Marathon runners we’ve also invested in the infrastructure of the site to ensure a great service. A total of 386,050 people applied for the London Marathon in 2018 and only about 40,000 get to run each year! While there’s such a high demand for places and while charities keep supporting it and enhancing the race for people, I can’t see how your fundraisers and the London Marathon itself won’t continue to break records for great causes for many years to come.

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