A few Sundays ago, we had a different Sunday morning by welcoming Team AlG at the Royal Parks Half Marathon #RPHM. A group of 16 runners braved under the rain to keep their commitment for the children (and to their donours). A group of 5 volunteers braved under the rain to welcome the runners and ensure they felt supported and appreciated for the efforts they were doing. For the first hour, we thought we might get away with a few umbrellas and rainproof jackets. But just before the first gunshot for the fastest group to depart – it started pouring.
It was intense and somewhat worrying. We held up and cheered everyone on. The runners did not fade and were excellent at keeping the spirits up.
The Royal Parks Half Marathon has historically been one of the largest events we have in the year for fundraising. But it seems to be getting tougher every year – and we have hit a low this year. Before we need to decide on the number of slots we buy for next year (which will be soon), I wanted to analyse why it was so tough. For that, I need to run through the basics of how it works:
- Pre-Commitment: the running slots need to be bought by the charities by year end (almost a year before the next race actually happens). They are typically hard to get and you have to be quick to respond on the first day they go on sale. We do that blindly, a bet on how many runners we think we may get. We have had over 30 in the past but often we buy 20-25 and then get more on the charity market. The slots need to be done in December and at that time no runner will ever commit to something in 10 months time. Do you know if you want to do a half marathon on the 13th October 2019?
In the past, we always had all our slots filled, even if after the deadline, but this year, I came back home with 4 running chips. Disappointing.
- Timing of Registration: The deadline for registration is by mid to end August. It improved slightly this year but it is typically around a time when people are away and the last thing they want to think about is a half marathon and entering personal details in a system. They are on holiday, with kids or alcohol (perhaps both), if not trying to get away from everything including technology.
The concept of a deadline in the middle of August does not make sense and we end up often adding our own names to the list until the runners come back from holiday.
- Non-Transparent Charity Market: for those charities that wish to get extra slots or sell their slots if they were too ambitious, there is no real charity market. You have to add your name to the list well before the deadline by sending an email to someone at the organization. You know nothing if it is a buyers market or a seller’s market until you get an email with an invoice or get asked for account details to transfer your slots. It is usually done in bulk so you don’t add or remove 1-2 as runners come by.
In the past, we have used the charity to market to buy last-minute slots and increased our capacity, but this year as we tried to sell some, we did not even get an answer. I am certainly some technology could help.
- Limitations of changes post-deadline: the registration deadline implies that the names of runners cannot be changed after that. If you are a runner, you will certainly know that injuries are easy to come by in the month coming up to the race, especially if you had a lazy summer. The system does not allow room for transfers, which would allow runners that can no longer run to find a friend and transfer their slot to them, that way not leaving the charity with no fundraising associated.
In the past, we have transferred slots without actually changing the names. We are careful about registering everyone’s emergency details and very honest with the new runners coming in that they are under a different name. But we don’t like it.
- Posting of Running Bibs: the running bibs are posted to the runners home or can be collected on site. Typically, most runners chose to receive the running bibs in advance, as they can come to the race ready. For the charities, this causes 2 issues. First, for the runners that commit to fundraising but ultimately don’t even try, there is no way to re-allocate the slot and to have a credible “threat”. I know, a threat is a strong word, but the truth is that being this one of our most expensive fundraising mechanisms, we have no choice but to then end up endlessly nagging people who don’t even bother opening a fundraising page before the race day. The second issue, is that team spirit is part of the reason we do the race, therefore being able to welcome the runners and help them get ready on the day and offering them an ALG branded running bib is important as well.
In the past, we had issues where groups of runners thought the RPHM was about running and not about fundraising and had no means to stop them. We found ways to create more sticky commitments (that are still verbal more than anything else) and people have actually started to appreciate joining the team ahead of the race.
- Competition: there were more than 550 charities at the 2018 Royal Parks Half Marathon. And 16’000 runners. Runners can get a place at the public ballot, but slots are hard to come by, so it is usual to participate through charity slots. Competition is 2-fold. First, you compete to get runners in your team, as multiple charities are trying to get fundraisers and corporates often rally up around a common corporate cause and get slots and support to their employees (which is Morgan Stanley’s case, which this year supported NSPCC). If you pull through the hurdle of getting runners on the team, then they have to compete with other runners and co-workers who are also fundraising for other charities. They need to be early, they need to have a better story, they need to be more appealing, funny, passionate, you name it.
This year, I have personally received asks from more than 5 people directly and, on my trading floor, over 20 people were running the RPHM for different charities.
- Peer to Peer Fundraising: Everyone knows the drill, you pay a symbolic registration fee (that almost never covers the cost of the slot) and then you commit to fundraising a certain amount for the charity. For a half marathon, the amount is usually £350 fundraising, which is also what we request at ALG. You set up a fundraising page, you email a few friends and post on social media. Then you repeat, you ask, you talk about it at a dinner or two. If you are a heavy social media user you post some pictures of you running with a link to your page, you thank people online, you tell the ones that haven’t given you how little you need to get to your target. Oh, and you set up an ambitious target. There are so many dos and don’ts to peer to peer fundraising, but if there is one I most recommend is “just do it”. Most people are surprised by how easy it is to get to the £350 minimum. Most people that try to fundraise, beat that by a factor of 2 with a couple of good messages to their friends.
Every year, we have 1-2 start fundraisers who take pride in being top of the list and the fact that they are only doing such a race because it is for charity. Equally, there is always someone that is embarrassed to ask for money…
So, with so many not so good set up points, why do we do it?
Well, the RPHM is a “steady” income stream for us. It brings people together, we have repeat runners and a few new supporters that bring with them new donours. They may or may not ever donate to you again, but many of them may eventually join your supporter list. It is a numbers game. The more runners/fundraisers you have, the more people they reach out to, the more people you can appeal to your cause. For us, what makes it or breaks it is really the effort people put into the peer to peer fundraising. A good fundraiser will easily make up for a lost runner. And it has shown essential for us to grow the numbers.
As I write this, I challenge my own statement (of course I would). I know already that in the next few weeks I am going to run my historical stats on whether RPHM donours become ALG donours. I have all the stats on our database, so I know I can measure it. That could be a good place to start if I were to make a radical decision to just drop it. Or of how much effort to put on it.
But even if people are not repeat donours, and they are new donours every year, at least it is one fundraising effort of the year where we are not the ones pushing for funds with a large base, but rather training 20 runners to also be fundraisers during 6-8 weeks.
All in all, the RPHM exhausts me. It drains time from my schedule in the weeks leading up to it as I try and engage the runners and motivate them to do this for the children. It can be the most frustrating and demotivating part of the year where every day you feel like you are begging people to send out an email or set up a page. It definitely hurts my morale and that is why I believe it is right to challenge it.
And then you are there on the day.
It is pouring and the runners are excited. For some of them, it is their first half marathon. Others finish asking if this time they were first on the team or beat their previous year time. It is exciting, it is sweet to support them and everyone then does feel so incredibly proud to have helped raise so much money, so much more than they ever thought they could.
It is draining by Sunday night, and this year soaking wet, but we have a warm heart and a smile in our cold faces.