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Asking Friends for Donations for Charity Bike and Skate Events

timv's picture

In the topic remembering Sheldon Brown, eebee makes some good comments about raising money for charity ride events and feeling some awkwardness about asking others to contribute. I'd quoted an essay of Sheldon's saying that he didn't like "a-Thon" charity events because they send a message to donors that "their contribution has been 'earned' by the suffering of the participant who has sacrificed time and comfort for the sake of the cause." He argued that cycling is fun and that shouldn't be represented as an ordeal to be endured, and that it's only that if the participants aren't prepared for the event.

I don't want that thread to get sidetracked in a direction away from Sheldon, but I think that's a good issue and worth discussing. A couple of excerpts to recap: "I love being able to donate funds to such worthy causes. But comparing the 'hardship' of skate-training 8 hours a week out in the glorious sunshine, to the encumbrance and fearful uncertainty of suffering a life-threatening disease could well insult someone." And: "The way I explain my participation in organized charity 'rides' requiring more than a token $30 entry fee, is by telling folks if they want to help out people with MS they can do so through me and T2T."

I've said in the past that I had no problem paying an entry fee for an event benefiting a charity, but that I felt somewhat uncomfortable asking others to "sponsor" me. Among my family and friends, it's pretty well known that I do long runs and skates and bike rides, very often on my own and for no cause of any kind, and that I usually enjoy it. So I've been hesitant to approach them and ask for sponsorship for an event, as though it was something heroic and courageous and extraordinary when they were likely to think that I'd be doing it anyway.

When I decided to skate last year's Tour to Tanglewood just a couple of days before the event, I was surprised at how eager folks were to help me out with donations. It turned out not to be a problem of any kind. In fact, when I suggested an amount that might be appropriate to give, the most common reply was, "Oh no, I can do better than that." The National MS Society is a charity that's known and respected, and people who are in the habit of making a certain amount of donations per year to charity seem happy enough to route a portion of that through a friend participating in one of these events, and perhaps feel that they're participating along with us in some way.

That said, I didn't raise a huge amount having started so late in the process, and what I got is probably fairly described as "low-hanging fruit." I can see how it might be different when you start going outside your closest circle of acquaintances looking for donors, and that it might matter a lot how much your social circle overlaps that of others who are participating in the same event, who might already have asked the same people that you're approaching.

Any other thoughts?



roadskater's picture

Exercising for Ourselves Might as Well Help Others Too

Yes. Good ideas. Really, most of us start out exercising for our own needs, then extend that to reach for something which might as well have benefit to others as well.

Really, it's an exchange of mostly pleasing selfishly motivated behaviors, ha! We want to skate in company and with support for safety and some comfort, especially if something goes wrong. Organizations support our athleticism and put up with whatever whining goes on to raise money. Businesses donate for tax breaks and advertising value. Individuals work for money or volunteer and get a sense of helping the world. It all usually works pretty well and I am sure I'm much safer at most events than I would be on my own on the road.

And I really like trying to add some meaning to my workouts aside from just my own needs, which I don't mind saying seem pretty important to me. But it's an extra kick to know in June we'll be starting training rides, and that in September I want to be able to do 45 miles two days in a row...at least that much.

And while I do the fundraising and believe it is important, I am starting to focus more on bringing people to the tour and to our Roadskater.net team if possible...to the related activities of exercise, fundraising, and encouraging others to exercise for charity. In general, my friends are less able to donate than my friends' friends' friends might be, and if we all get more people exercising for charity, there's a huge magnification of health benefits possible. So yes I want your donations, but I'll gladly give up getting your donation if you'll come do the event and raise donations even more in doing so.

I don't like presenting the idea that we are suffering, either, unless it is to minimize it in comparison with the suffering and pain MS, lung cancer, diabetes, AIDS, hunger, poverty or other challeges cause. I think that heroic suffering was more believable before there were thousands of similar events every year, and before so many people participated, and before they became shorter, easier events (the Tour to Tanglewood is relatively short at 90 miles in two days, compared with some charity events).

I try to convey that we are in fact enjoying ourselves and any mild suffering is temporary, joyous and insignificant compared with the toll on the body (including the mind) imposed by Multiple Sclerosis. Sometimes I probably get carried away with the explanation of the event, since I still know more about skating than Multiple Sclerosis.

We are lucky to have the time and health (and money, for equipment) to skate or bike for charity. I try to remember that we're doing this one thing (our summer-long T2T effort) for those who can't enjoy skating or biking pain-free (essentially) the way we do. Remembering the cause is helpful when something upsetting happens, too, like an angry motorist or other minor obstacle. 

It's way too much fun to exercise for charity for it to be considered noble. It's for our own health and well-being, and the fact that it helps others makes it even more beneficial to our health and well-being.

When we started in 1999, I had never tried to raise money for a cause like that, and it was awkward, but i got through it and once I started it was easier than I imagined. The owner of Elizabeth's Pizza on Lawndale, back when it was yet formica and paneling as we fondly remember, probably gave me the first check I received from a business. Other businesses have a more formal process, as they are inundated with requests.

I think the first year the responses are easier because it is a novelty to friends. Then in later years, some people actually look forward to you asking, while others of course have hit a rough spot and feel they need some charity themselves.

With the glut of fundraising events, it is ever harder to ask without it being uncomfortable for the solicitor or the donor or both. But I pretend (in my head, not to others) that I have a brother, sister, father, mother, nephew, niece or child with MS.

I could do the same with diabetes and other illnesses, and might do so, but I got started with this cause because of hearing about Tour to Tanglewood for so many years and wondering if I could ever bike it. I decided not.

Then I started skating and the idea came again with a ding ding ding as Craig and I prepared for our first A2A. I still remember (at least in my internal movie) going up the monument hill (no monument there at the time) and mentioning the idea to Craig.

It helps when the charity is something well-known like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And I felt better after I read the annual report and some other materials and metrics on how funds are used.

[It also helps when we meet people with MS during the summer (like Paul Rogers who actually rode many of the training rides and hung out near the back with us on some days) and especially at the Tour on Saturday afternoon. I wish more people with MS could make it out to meet us, and that some would show up here to journal some about their path through life with MS.]

One main idea is, as eebee and timv have said, no pressure is needed, just say if you're planning to donate to some good causes, here is one, and I'd be honored to deliver that donation on your behalf at the event. Some other ideas that have worked are:

  • ask your boss if your company offers matching funds (some match and others donate twice what you raise);
  • teach a class in skating, biking or anything, free for a donation (see skatey-mark's http://skatestrong.com for a great one);
  • ask the restaurant where you regularly visit (especially in a regular a group) to donate or donate food coupons;
  • ask your accountant (one member had a very generous donation from his accountant) or other professional where you've done business for years;
  • have a yard sale with all proceeds to the charity;
  • bake cookies and other treats and take them to work with a note about the charity and "free with any donation";
  • do little favors or nice things for people like Charles does, and don't let people return the favor at the time...just say as he does: "you'll get an envelope this summer and you can help out then!" Send an envelope with postage and a note inside asking them to send a donation for MS.

It is simply amazing to me how many skaters (and cyclists) from Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas and other states have embraced this event and made it one of their own. They pay to fly and stay here, and deliver big contributions to help people with MS. It means the world to me to have friends join us on the road for this cause, especially.

For us locals, the Tour is a real bargain with all the free training rides. These events are as good or better than most of the $30 (and creeping upward) rides for charities (or not). I we had to fork over this amount every weekend, I would not be able to afford to be on rides.

So the Tour to Tanglewood actually helps me be able to afford to get ready for 2 days of 90 miles or more total in safe, organized events, where I get to know people who will be in the Tour. It's incredibly good.

I hope charity rides all summer long can find a way to stay affordable for as many as possible. There should be ways we can encourage lower income people, including kids, to participate. This year I've missed one event because it was simply way too expensive to register and too far away for a charity I didn't recognize...which may have been a good one, but I wasn't educated on it by the publicity materials.

The Tour to Tanglewood training rides are great for this. Free, with no obligation, letting you know what the Tour is about, welcoming, but not forcing anyone to participate in the actual Tour. We're lucky to have these, and I am healthier for participating in them.

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