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How Fundraising Became My Strongest Motivation For Running

This runner discovered a passion for charity fundraising that's almost as strong as her love for running.

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A Valuable Reason To Run

Like many people, I was naïve enough to believe that running is a free sport. When I started running, I donned a pair of raggedy sneakers, grabbed a water bottle in one hand and my phone in the other and hit the road. Years later, when I think about how much money I’ve spent on shoes, clothes for every season, nutrition, race fees and fundraising, I realize I was very wrong!

After several years of running, I am now a charity runner for two organizations: Girls on the Run and Dreamfar High School Marathon. Girls on the Run is a 20-year-old national nonprofit that provides leadership training to girls in grades three through eight. The program inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. I ran a local half marathon as a Girls on the Run SoleMate, for which I raised funds to support young girls’ positive, confident development. Now, as a Dreamfar mentor, I help cultivate a judgment-free, non-competitive environment for Boston-area students to test their physical, social and emotional limits by training for the Providence Marathon. In addition to mentoring students on Saturday mornings, I am also fundraising for Dreamfar.

As it turns out, my attempt to avoid fundraising for running has been completely futile. While I’m still not tasked with fundraising more than $5,000 for the Boston Marathon, I am officially as committed to fundraising as I am to running itself. For me, fundraising and running for a cause introduces an element of accountability and determination to the sport. This combination cultivates a sense of belonging, meaning and community by allowing me the opportunity to be part of a team that is working physically, mentally and relationally toward common goals. It’s also a special way to share my experience with my non-running family and friends.

I had the privilege of speaking with Tracy Saperstein, a leading fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Boston Marathon Team who’s raised more than $117,000 in three years, about her fundraising strategies and successes. Saperstein shared how her fundraising both motivated her and connected her to her running journey on a deeper level. “I started to run tree to tree, lamppost to lamppost. [I ran] 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, Disney events–and then, by September [of that year], I wanted to run a marathon,” Saperstein said. “Being from the Boston area, I have always been amazed by the Boston Marathon. I looked at charity teams, and my friend told me to check out the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC). One hundred percent of all funds raised go directly to the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. So I applied to get on the team. Then, right before Thanksgiving 2014, DFMC posted on their Facebook page something like, ‘What are you hoping for this holiday season?’ I replied with, ‘I’m hoping to get on the DFMC Team.’ I received an email that night saying I was on the team and I would receive additional information the following day. I was over the moon! But the real challenge had just begun.”

I could empathize with Saperstein; I’ve always been overwhelmed by the fundraising aspect of bigger races. When I committed to Dreamfar, I was instantly linked to a team of running friends–and, soon enough, fundraising obligations, too. Thankfully, Saperstein shared with me some tricks for the fundraising and running trade. I learned that she has tried everything from weekly emails and personalized fundraising business cards to incentives like wine tasting nights with friends and family. While several items were donated to support her fundraising efforts, Saperstein’s experience demonstrates the crucial fundraising fact that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. I didn’t realize this when I started fundraising for the Dreamfar High School Marathon! To exemplify this, Saperstein told me that she once hosted a fundraiser at a restaurant in her town and raised more than $100 in a single evening by bringing her family and encouraging her local friends to eat dinner at that restaurant on that night. I tuned into Saperstein’s suggestion and tweaked it a bit so it was appealing to my 20-something-year-old friends: I planned a trivia night fundraiser at a local gaming bar in my neighborhood. To do this successfully, I had to learn that fundraising is a lot like networking. When I tapped into my networking and connecting skills, I found that local businesses are interested in getting involved–especially when you have a strong elevator pitch or succinct way of describing the organization, its mission and how you’re involved with its work.

Both my and Saperstein’s experiences have a unique feature that makes all of our fundraising efforts feel even more valuable: we both personally know some of the people that directly benefit from the money we raise. Whether it’s local high school students or children seeking life-saving cancer treatments, the impact of those personal connections has helped us both be more fervent, passionate advocates and fundraisers. When I send my biweekly Dreamfar fundraising updates, I always share a story or special moment from our recent runs. Adding a personal element to my fundraising has helped me be successful and get closer to my fundraising goals. Just as many runners on the Dana-Farber team build close relationships with their “Patient Partners” and “In Memory Partners,” Dreamfar is giving me a chance to build relationships with young adults, support their ambitions and help them achieve their goals. Based on how I feel about the mentoring relationships I’ve been fortunate to experience, I know that the impact of our time together will be long-lasting–and, in many ways, immeasurable.

Personal asks are really effective, but they can only get you so far. To raise the big bucks, you have to get creative. For example, I sold songs on my running playlist for one long run, with each song price starting at $5. I allowed contributors to indicate preferences (at additional costs) for the location of their song on my playlist and the number of times that song was repeated. I found that this was a great way to raise extra money from my friends who don’t have as much to give. As I was running, I also felt like all of my friends were coming along for the run!

As Saperstein said near the end of our conversation, “I think I love fundraising more than running.” I’m starting to get that vibe, too. It’s really incredible to have the opportunity to share about and advocate for two of the things I’m most invested in: running and mentoring.

Fundraising is absolutely a commitment and definitely a challenge. Some people may even tell you that fundraising for a marathon is more difficult than training for it! With 50 of my family members and friends contributing to this journey, I have an entire squad of people encouraging me and expecting me to accomplish this goal. That’s huge–and it’s a strong motivator. What’s even more special is that I can’t wait to update everyone about our Dreamfar MILEstones along the way.

If you would like to make a difference and donate to any of the charities noted in this piece, please click the following links: Melissa’s Dreamfar Page and Tracy’s Dana-Farber Page.