An exercise in exercise; sporting charity events can do more than just make you sweat

Two experts in event fundraising talk to us about how sporting charity events are a fantastic way to fundraise and build your supporter base – and how it’s not just big charities that can benefit.

Sporting events are increasingly important to the charity sector – the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon alone raised a record £61.5 million for good causes – but can smaller charities also capitalise on these opportunities? We sat down with two experts in event fundraising – Emily Roff, Sports Events and Community Fundraising Manager at Children with Cancer UK  and Devina Ganas, Community Fundraising Manager for baby charity Tommy’s – to find out.

On your marks…

The Virgin Money London Marathon is the biggest single day annual fundraising event in the world. The marathon’s incredible growth has come to symbolise what many in the charity sector have known for a while – sporting events are where it is at. Emily says

“Our sports fundraising brings in a quarter of the annual income for the charity, last year we had 1,400 runners in the Virgin Money London Marathon and raised over £2.5 million excluding Gift Aid.”

Devina is equally enthusiastic, “Over the past few years sporting events have become the heart and soul of what Tommy’s is about,” she says. “In 2011 we had approximately 250 charity places across all the country’s running and cycling events and now we have 1,822. It is totally possible to work your way up to having bigger teams and a bigger presence. It’s just about putting resource and effort behind it.”

Get set…

Both Tommy’s and Children with Cancer UK dedicate a great deal of time to supporting their fundraisers through the entire process. “We have an 18-month long supporter journey,” explains Emily. “From when an event opens to applicants to well after the event we are in touch with our fundraisers.”

Emily stresses the importance of being in touch with their supporters from the outset. “As soon as somebody hears they have a place in a sporting event like the Virgin Money London Marathon they want to tell the world, particularly on social media,” says Emily. “It’s important that charities are part of that message right from the beginning. Once a runner is awarded a place we get in touch with a welcome email, giving them training and fundraising advice.”

Both charities also send out physical welcome packs with branded vests and t-shirts for people to train in. Devina points out it’s important to remember how stressful undertaking an event in the name of charity can be, particularly for first-timers. “We try to make things as easy as possible for our supporters and fundraisers,” she says. “Advising them on how to collect sponsorship, providing training tips, fundraising ideas and even raffle prizes if we can.”

Both charities have a structured email newsletter campaign focusing on the practical elements of training and fundraising. Tommy’s also set up social media groups for each event, allowing their participants to interact with the team and with each other.

Despite digital being the backbone of both charities’ campaigns, Emily and Devina believe strongly in the personal touch. “It is amazing the difference picking up the phone can make,” says Emily. “We chat with people, get to know them and make sure that they know we’re here to support them. It’s important that they feel part of the team and part of the charity.” Children with Cancer UK also host training days in the run up to the larger events allowing the supporters to bond with each other.


Children with Cancer UK have thousands of fundraisers taking on different challenges every year and are the official charity partner for Rat Race events, who organise extreme challenges across the country. The result has been great exposure and an army of hardy fundraisers undertaking marathons up mountains and 20-mile obstacle races in the name of the charity.

Tommy’s have taken on their own organisational challenge – in 2018 the charity will launch its own event. The London Landmarks Half Marathon will take place on 25 March and see 10,000 participants run past some of London’s most iconic buildings. “It’s been intense,” says Devina with a laugh. “But it was the natural next step for us. Tommy’s are organising it, but it’s open to other charities as well.”

The warm down

Devina believes that you can’t let your energy levels drop for long after an event. “Post event is just as important as the run-up,” she says. “We’ll generally send an email the morning after and then try and call everyone in the weeks following that to make sure they got round okay and to acknowledge their huge efforts. We also let them know where we are at with fundraising and encourage them in that last push for sponsorship.”

Emily adds, “Somebody who has completed an event for you is much more likely to take on another challenge.” To encourage this Children with Cancer UK send out a booklet every January listing all the different events that year which supporters can sign up to. They also have a quarterly sports events e-newsletter that they send out. Emily has one final piece of advice for those who are able. “I think it’s important that we have personal experience of the events we are asking people to take part in,” she says. “Since I’ve started to work here I’ve completed 30 challenges. I haven’t run the Virgin Money London Marathon yet, but I am signed up to do it next year.” There’s no stopping some people.

Download our takeaway

You can download our Takeaway Resource – Countdown to a sporting event and keep it handy for planning your fundraising events.

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