Fundraising Tips for Chicago Marathon Charity Runners

Fundraising Tips for Chicago Marathon Charity Runners

Are you considering running the Chicago Marathon (or, really, any event) for a charity? Good for you! Do it! It’ll be an incredibly rewarding experience, plus you’ll get tons of support during training and on race day!

I ran the Chicago Marathon with the American Cancer Society a few years ago. I exceeded the fundraising minimum, trained with a local CARA group (at no cost to me) and had a lot of support on race day, including a post-race finish line party, with food and beer, that my family attended with me.

I’ve also done many other fundraising events with the American Cancer Society, so I have a lot of experience trying to get donations out of friends and family. I won’t lie, fundraising is a lot of work.

But here are my tips and, as we like to say at work “key learnings, best practices and do differents.”

Please Give Me Money

Doing a general “please donate money” plea on social media or through email will get you some donations from your closest friends and family and a few random people. But in my experience, I don’t know enough people to hit my goal just by asking alone. You also don’t want to annoy people, so I would recommend limiting your social media pleas to once a month, and email pleas to every other month, tops.

Get Crafty with Incentives 

Offer up a gift for donations over a certain dollar amount. When I did Relay For Life (also benefitting the American Cancer Society), my team and I made some jewelry, put up a photo album online, and anyone who donated $20 or more could pick a piece of jewelry that we would send to them. You could also do a virtual bake sale. Similar to above, but they can pick from a baked good that I made. (Totally stole that idea from Bethany.)



Hosting a party is a great way to raise a lot of money in a short period of time, although it helps if you know a lot of people, and they know a lot of people. I’ve done these parties two ways:

  • At a brewery with a party room – this was less work because you get the location, booze and food all in one package, plus a lot of the setup and clean up is handled by someone else. Anne and I partnered a few years ago to host a fundraiser at Revolution Brewery.
  • In my brother’s backyard – you have to coordinate your own booze and food and do all your own set up and clean up

Either way, charge a flat cover ($20 is a nice round number, although do the math on what you need to at least break even) and make sure to offer more for your guests (plus hustle more money out of them):

  • Ask friends who are performers (dancer, hula hooper, stand-up comedian, improviser, musician, etc). to donate their time and talent and perform so you have some entertainment. (Bonus, they might invite their friends too.)
  • Gather up valuable stuff that you can raffle off. Ask around for donations (gift certificates, barware, booze, gift baskets, tickets to shows or sporting events, etc).
  • Sell baked goods (donated by friends – this is great for people who want to help but can’t show up early or late). Make sure your catering package doesn’t include sweets so people are more inclined to buy a baked good.
  • Sell other handmade things
  • ALWAYS do an extra 50/50 split the pot raffle
  • And don’t forget to shame people who can’t attend by asking them to make an online donation

Raffle / Baked Goods for sale 

Come to my Party, By Which I Mean, Buy Stuff 

Host a party that is actually a sales pitches – Pampered Chef, Stella & Dot, LuLaRoe, etc. Usually, you can get your host perks as a cash donation to your cause. (But then you don’t get the host perks.) If you’re in Chicago, I know some LuLaRoe and Stella & Dot consultants.


There are various other options for parties that are event focused, like wine & painting parties at a place like Bottle & Bottega, or maybe you know someone who teaches classes (like … burlesque) who would be willing to donate their time for a class (public or private) to raise money.  Read the fine print before you commit to anything! They might have a minimum amount they charge and if you don’t get enough registrations, your “fundraiser” could end up costing you.

Do Something Extreme 

Promise to chop your hair off or shave your head if you hit your goal. I was already planning to chop my hair anyway, but putting it out there right before Relay For Life a few years ago that I would chop off my hair (and donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths to make wigs for cancer patients) if I hit my goal helped me get quite a few more small donations that put me over my goal.

Hit Up Co-Workers

Bowl of candy + donation jar on your desk at work. Or if your desk is in an out of the way spot, put it in the kitchen or near the coffee.  (Make sure you’re not violating any HR policies.)

Sell Stuff

Clean out your closet, storage unit, bookshelves, etc, and sell stuff you no longer want or need. Use apps like Poshmark, eBay, etc, or find a consignment shop. Donate your proceeds.

Donate Your Own Time

If you have a talent, skill or service, and are in the position to do so, offer to work for donations – charge your usual rate (but welcome more) and donate your revenue. Or, if you don’t have anything you can offer, look into participating in market research studies and donate your honorarium.

Fundraising takes some effort. There’s always someone asking for a donation to something, so your success is going to depend on how big your network is, how much your charity resonates with people, how generous they are feeling … and who else is hitting them up for a donation. You might think “oh, I only need to raise $1,000 … I have 500 Facebook friends … if each of them donated $2, I’m good!” But in reality maybe 5-10 of your Facebook friends will make a donation.

Have you done successful fundraising? What worked for you? What didn’t? 

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2 Comments on “Fundraising Tips for Chicago Marathon Charity Runners”

  1. I recently ran Chicago for charity as well, and it is certainly harder to raise money than it is to actually run a marathon. These tips would’ve been very useful. Thanks for posting!

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