In the community fundraising team at the Terrence Higgins Trust, we wouldn’t expect our supporters to do anything to raise funds to support people living with HIV that we wouldn’t do ourselves.
Whether that’s selling red ribbons on a freezing December night for World Aids Day or hosting a raffle in a pub over the din of regulars ("No, I said 48, not 12!"), you name it, we’ve done it.
For the past three years, I’ve been THT’s London Marathon lead, supporting our 35-strong team to ensure they’re ready, physically, mentally and emotionally, to take on the 26.2 mile course – as well as keeping their fundraising on track, of course.
But this year I decided to quite literally walk 26.2 miles in our fundraisers’ shoes and take on my biggest-ever challenge by joining them in the race – and I genuinely believe it’s made me a better fundraiser.
I always wanted to join the small number of people who have ever run a marathon, and I’ve been so inspired by our runners, whether they’re running for themselves after an HIV diagnosis, or running for an inspirational friend or someone lost to HIV.
Of course, when I signed up, I didn’t know it would be the hottest London Marathon on record, or that I would be floored by a sickness bug a couple of weeks before the race.
But that’s the same for every single runner. You never know what’s going to happen between signing up and crossing the finish line, and looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I wasn’t just doing the marathon alongside my runners on the day. I was also fundraising with them and training in the snow with them too. I was quite literally seeing things from the other side and critically assessing what was good and what we could do better.
For example, I realised that our runners will seek their own training plans and advice online. What they need from us in our supporter care emails are fundraising tips and event information.
I appreciated the commitment of our runners before, but I really appreciate that now, and it’s helping to shape what I and the rest of the team at THT offer our runners.
I’m not the only one to have taken the plunge. My colleague Viviana Thurstan, who’s just starting her career in community fundraising, completed this year’s Manchester Marathon in 4 hours 37 minutes (ahead of my time of 5 hours 10 minutes), and we’re aiming to make this part of a new ethos at the trust.
I would really recommend the "getting-stuck-in" approach to other fundraisers. This experience will help me for the rest of my career and across all of our challenge events, not just London.
But in case you’re wondering, despite all the benefits London’s definitely my first and last marathon. Having said that, climbing Kilimanjaro looks tempting…
Tom Woolveridge is senior community fundraising officer at the Terrence Higgins Trust