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Transforming Fundraising, Through Running and Fun

Transforming Fundraising, Through Running and Fun

I had never considered raising money through my running. After all, I love to run. Why should anyone pay me to do it? I (mostly) don’t think of running as suffering, but as an activity that brings me joy, connection and satisfaction. The only reason I decided to fundraise is that I wanted to run the London Marathon and it’s almost impossible to get into London through the lottery. When I filled out the application for London last year, I checked the box that I would be interested in a charity bib.

Of course, I didn’t get into to London through the lottery. But Organization for Autism Research (OAR) was one of the charities you could apply to run for. Our daughter had been recently diagnosed as autistic, just a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday. I had two friends who had run for OAR and they raved about the experience. It seemed like a perfect fit. I submitted my application and was accepted. I was so excited! And a little nervous. I had never raised more than a couple hundred dollars for anything and now I had six months to raise $5500. Yikes.

A friend who is a professional fundraiser gave me the best advice. She said, when we ask people for money, we are doing them a favor. Most people want to do something good in the world, but they don’t know what to do. When we offer friends and family the opportunity to donate to an organization we care about, we are giving them a clear path about how they can help. The first few times I asked for money, it was challenging, but I kept her advice in mind and it got easier. Asking for money became a chance for conversation and connection. A friend donated and then two more donations came in – from her mother and her aunt. It turns out my friend’s cousin is autistic. That’s just one story, but variations on this theme happened often. I got to know people better by asking for donations. I had not expected that.

I was also determined to make fundraising FUN. My husband and I have given a lot of money (for us) to a local mental health foundation because their main fundraiser is a dinner with fancy desserts, a live auction, and a hilarious trivia contest. At the end of the night, we’ve had a great evening out with friends and supported a cause we care about.

I knew I couldn’t do an upscale gala, so instead I organized an “All Ages Happy Hour” at a local café that serves beer and wine along with coffee and pastry. I asked local businesses to donate prizes for a raffle. I ordered infinity rainbow pins to give away and we put up rainbow balloons. We turned it into a party! We gave away the infinity rainbow pins to everyone who came into the café. I had planned some games but everyone was so busy talking that we didn’t end up playing them. The owner of the barbershop next door came in. It turns out he is autistic and he was excited to learn about OAR. The café is considering scheduling an event for families with sensory sensitivities. It wasn’t a huge gala, but it was genuinely fun and the “All Ages Happy Hour” raised a lot of money.

By the end of the campaign, I had raised over $7000 dollars. It turns out that the things I love about running – joy, connection, and satisfaction – were also possible through fundraising. I plan to learn what I used raising money for OAR to help other organizations in my local community and I look forward to running for OAR again in the future. I am so grateful for opportunity OAR offered me. Thank you!

Sarah Elise Wiliarty is an Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University specializing in European politics. Her daughter Geneva was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of 15. Sarah is a passionate runner and coach. She has run sixteen marathons and countless other races. She and Geneva enjoy baking and traveling together.


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