Charity Running: Why do it and where does our ££ go?


Running for charity: a good cause gets some much-needed funding, and you get to increase your fitness, fulfill your potential, lower that cholesterol and generally revel in being a Supremely Good Citizen of Society. Win-win, right?


Given how high the stakes are for charity running (you can’t get much higher than Supremely Good Citizen and low cholesterol), it clearly deserves a post or two. This is the first of two posts about the subject – and maybe more if there’s more to explore.


Charity running is big business: in 2009, the London Marathon set the record for the largest annual fundraising event with a total of £47.2 million  ($87.2m) raised. £47 million from one event!  To put that into perspective, the UK’s Children in Need event in November 2013, with it’s huge telethon, raised £31m ($57.3m) on the night, which is £5m more than the year before.



London marathon

London marathon in London fog!


 Over in the homeland, the City2Surf, Australia’s largest race, raised $4,561,200 (£2.5m) in 2014. This beat last year’s amount by $500k (£272k). There’s no doubt about it: the contribution made by running is incredible.



The ‘City’ part of City2Surf

Thanks to social media and Just Giving etc, it’s so much easier for people to support their friends too. Gone are the days when we’d have to write down what each person promised to donate, and then chase them like an awkward, jilted lover for said donation. No, these days, people can donate from the comfort of their own homes, or even on their mobile phones when they’re out and about. The future is here, people.


As well as serving a Higher Purpose, running for charity often triggers a lifestyle change too. I asked my running group how fundraising had impacted their running. Of the women who answered, the majority said that they wanted to do the Race for Life (women only 5k event for cancer research) due to a personal connection, and that was the first time they had done any regular running. Post-race, they were bitten by the running bug and carried on.


Race for Life, Durham

Race for Life, Durham


A lot of the guys concurred: fundraising for charity had kick-started their running careers, whether as a result of a bet, or because they too had a personal connection they wanted to support.  One of our runners transformed from couch potato (his words!) to Park Run Event Director! Not a bad kick start. Another guy also said this: ‘I ran because I was getting fat from eating too much chocolate. Discovered that if you run enough you can eat almost whatever you want. Sold.’ Amen.


So far, we have learned that fundraising via running is very good for the charity, and very good for the individual. Not many surprises there I guess. However, is this combo of fitness, charity and altruism really as peachy as all this?


Sometimes – and this might seem controversial – it can feel like the activity itself is emphasized at the expense of the charity. Whilst not running, or even sporty, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a good example of this: it received criticism for being narcissistic, with too few people actually going on to donate. People liked the game but not the giving.


However, check this bad boy out: during a typical week, the MND Association would typically receive £200,000  ($370k) a week in donations, but during the week of 22-29 August, it received £2.7m ($5m). So in spite of the hype, and the fact that for weeks you couldn’t find literally anything else on Facebook, there’s no question that the real winner here was the MND Association.


This leads to another question. With so much money being raised for charity, how do we know where it goes? This is our hard-earned cash, and I’ve had more than a few people say in hushed tones ‘yeah, but we don’t really know where it all goes….’


When researching this post (yes, I do look into what I write you know!), I asked Oxfam and the Children’s Society all about their sporty-fundraising, and where their money goes. I approached these two because I personally am interested in the work they do, and because Oxfam has an international focus, where as The Children’s Society seems to work more on a UK level. Here’s what I found out:



Oxfam rely on sporting events a lot to contribute to their overall fundraising. At this year’s Great North Run, they had 350 runners who raised a minimum of £300 each, totaling approximately £105,000. The London Marathon is so popular that they can ask runners to raise a minimum of £2,000 each. In 2014, their 72 places meant they received approximately £144,000.


This is big bucks we’re talking about. The Great North money alone is 2.3 is times the annual salary of a couple with two kids– so you’d better be confident in where it’s going. Here is a breakdown for every £1 donated:

  • 82p goes to emergency, development and campaign work
  • 9p on support
  • 9p invested to generate future income through fundraising

The 82p goes into their General Fund, which goes towards a number of different projects they are working on.


Children's Society


The Children’s Society raised £5 million from fundraising events each year. Runners for the London Marathon are asked to raise £2,000, and last year they received £164,000 from 73 runners. From every £1, 72p goes directly towards services to help disadvantaged or vulnerable children. For every £1 they invest in fundraising, they generate another £4.30.


In 2013-2014, their total spend included:

  • Services to children: £29.4m
  • Trading, inc. shops: £6.8m
  • Fundraising: £5.9m
  • Campaigning, research and policy: £4.8m
  • Other: £0.3m


So, when we support someone who is running for charity, it seems the lion’s share actually finds its way to The Cause, whatever it might be. Which, let’s face it, is reassuring.  Some organisations such as Tearfund use the additional money raised by Gift Aid to cover their admin costs, meaning that even more donation money goes to the front line.


Our sponsorships are hard earned: the giver works hard to earn their salaries, and the runner works hard pounding the pavements in all weather training for an event that seemed like such a good idea at the time. It feels like charity running and fundraising is growing in popularity (although I don’t have any figures for this), and while it may seem like Just Giving pages are waging war all over Facebook for prominence, behind many of them are individuals who are trying to make a difference: to themselves, and to the world. And that’s why they’re Supremely Good Citizens of Society.


Ok, that was a fairly sanctimonious end. I was honestly really pleased that my research showed such a high proportion of each donation going towards project work, which may have influenced the tone of this post. The next post will deviate from this, and look at my own approach to charity running, as well as some different opinions from my runners group amigos……


Ellie B



  1. Anon (16 November 2013). Children in Need beats record total after raising £31m [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed: 12th October 2014]
  2. Collinson, P. (25 March 2014). UK Incomes: How does your salary compare? [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed: 12th October 2014]
  3. Townsend, L. (2 September 2014). How much has the Ice Bucket Challenge Achieved? [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed: 12th October 2014]
  4. Wikipedia (page modified on 4 October 2014). London Marathon [WWW]. Available from: [Accessed 12th October 2014]


Information regarding The Children’s Society, Oxfam, Tearfund, and City2Surf was sought through email and phone correspondence with them. 

3 thoughts on “Charity Running: Why do it and where does our ££ go?

    • Thanks! Nice to know the majority gets back out into the field, isn’t it? Hope your IT band is better. I keep meaning to reply to your FB message, but I’ve been busy! Sounds like you still got a great time at Berlin in spite of the challenges…?

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