How to turn marathon runners into long-term supporters

Maintaining a tidy donor database and getting the tone right in communications can keep first-time fundraisers interested in a charity, writes Mark Roy

Mark Roy
Mark Roy

This weekend, more than 35,000 runners were cheered on as they ran through the sunny streets of London, and more than three-quarters of these did so to raise money for charity. Last year, runners of the London Marathon raised a record £53m, a feat they’ll hope to surpass this time around.

Yet after the last runner has crossed the finish line, the streets have been cleared of empty water bottles and the bunting has been put back in its box until 2015, the charities continue to need financial support. 

Doing a marathon is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime event, so converting these often first-time benefactors into long-term ambassadors with a life-long connection to a charity is a delicate business. This is especially true if they have chosen to run for a charity only because they have missed out on a ballot space. However, the act of running the marathon alone lives long in the memories of participants, and this is something charities should seize on in order to build long-term donor affiliations.

Keep your donor data up to date

It’s important to stay on top of donor database management in order to build these long-term bonds. Keeping data up to date enables charities to gain an accurate picture of who their communications reach, separate first-time donors from long-term supporters and enable smarter, more focused planning for campaigns.

The cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support recently reduced its email bouncebacks from 20,000 to fewer than 20 by improving the accuracy of its database, boosting its donor base by 30 per cent. This contributed to a total revenue increase of more than 10 per cent for the charity. By screening for deceased and gone-away records, as well as flagging any new addresses, charities can keep contact details for donors as up to date as possible, while also minimising the costs of sending communications to invalid addresses. Enhancing the database by rooting out expired records and updating home-mover information also made predictive modelling and segmentation strategies for future campaigns more effective.

Use data wisely

Of course, it’s not all about the data; it’s also about what you do with it and when. Bombarding a contributor with requests for more money in the weeks after the event can be a huge turn-off. On the other hand, ignoring someone who has demonstrated interest in supporting the cause, or not recognising their potential, is a missed opportunity. There’s a fine line between keeping communication going and annoying potential donors, and following a few simple do's and don’ts can point organisations in the right direction.


Send blanket, non-personalised emails In today’s communication landscape, the general public have very high expectations about how organisations should interact with them, regardless of motive. Tailored emails go a long way towards getting a positive response from those who’ve previously donated to the charity.

Be demanding Just because someone has given before doesn’t mean they are obliged to give again, and there is a tendency to shut off marketing communications that are too forceful. This can leave a lasting negative impression, so it is best to take a soft approach.

Offer nothing The person’s interest in charitable giving has already been established by the marathon they have just run, so be up front and open. Explain what the money is going towards and frame it as part of a wider campaign with specific goals.


Keep your data tidy This might seem obvious, but many charities are sitting on old data, sending fundraising materials to people who are no longer interested in the charity or might have moved abroad. There’s a very real risk of causing offence by sending to the deceased or, more simply, showing ignorance of their audience. It’s also a waste of money. Macmillan saved more than £50,000 in staff time and marketing collateral by cutting the chaff from its database.

Use case studies There are a large number of charities and a finite number of donors. Demonstrating the positive impact of contributions is a great way to show previous donors the value of continuing to support a cause.

Enable users to opt out of receiving campaign materials Knowing who is and who isn’t engaged with the charity enables the better allocation of resources towards those donors who might have an affiliation with the charity. This creates a far more efficient donations process, reaping benefits while keeping costs low.

Mark Roy is chief executive at the Data Agency

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