#Thanksabillion: How the London Marathon has bucked the trend and kept on growing
As the London Marathon announces it will pass the £1 billion mark of money donated to charities this year, Kenneth Foreman, Head of Charities at London Marathon Events Ltd, looks at the success of the iconic challenge and at the future of event fundraising.
On 25 January, we announced that the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon would celebrate £1 billion raised for charity by the world’s greatest marathon.
This is an incredible number. £1,000,000,000. It’s hard to comprehend what a billion pounds looks like so try this: if you gave £1 every second to a different charity it would take you 30 years to donate a billion pounds.
I don’t think that the late Chris Brasher and John Disley, visionaries though they were, would ever have imagined this success when they were working to put on the first London Marathon back in 1981. Chris and John were passionate about the power of the marathon to provide the opportunity “to have fun and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world” and they had the extraordinary foresight to create The London Marathon Charitable Trust so that the surplus from the London Marathon, and all future events organised by London Marathon Events Ltd, would support projects that inspired people to get active. But one billion pounds for charity by 2019? No, I don’t think so.
Every year, more than 75 per cent of the 40,000+ runners in the London Marathon fundraise, with many taking on the 26.2 mile challenge in a huge range of extraordinary costumes, from rhinos to tutus, Wombles to knights, telephone boxes to Big Bens – the variety is endless. And their fundraising has helped millions of people by raising money for our greatest medical challenges, climate change, animal welfare, care for the elderly, diversity, war veterans, children’s welfare, the arts, human rights, education – the list goes on.
During my time working for a charity before joining London Marathon Events, I looked at the event in awe, as many others did in the sector. It is simply unique in the way it manages to encapsulate everything that is great about the world into one single day in April and it’s the reason I was thrilled to join the team last July to work with our thousands of charity partners.
A national institution
The London Marathon is now a national institution, one of the capital’s great days out and the most popular marathon on the planet with more than 414,000 people applying in the ballot for the 2019 race.
There has been talk recently that the market has reached a peak in mass participation events but the London Marathon bucks that trend with the number of applications continuing to set world records year on year.
I’ve never run the London Marathon but I’ve experienced it first hand on several occasions and have witnessed the impact it has on people for the rest of their lives. I recall speaking to many people who described it the best experience of their life and this is why I believe the future of mass participation events is positive. People want unique, positive experiences that they can share with others.
One of my most memorable experiences at an event was cheering on the final runner at The Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2017. All our charity runners had finished and one of our supporters suggested we should go and clap in the final few runners. To see the face of the woman who was the final finisher as we cheered her over those last hundred yards was a thoroughly rewarding experience and I can still see her smile as she crossed the line.
Yes, there are big challenges ahead in a crowded marketplace and we know that it’s not possible to immediately replicate the incredible London Marathon fundraising success with newer events such as Prudential RideLondon, The Vitality Big Half or Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine. It takes time, hard work and constant improvement to build an event that generates such enormous sums every year for charity but we are determined to continue to help charities maximise the fundraising from our range of events.
Event fundraising is a complex challenge: recruiting fundraisers, supporting them through their journey and then ensuring they have a positive experience isn’t easy and, as anyone who has worked in event fundraising will know, it can be long hours but thoroughly rewarding. It takes hard work, passion, energy and determination to drive effective event fundraising and these are all attributes I see every day in my role working with our charity partners.
Fundraising in mass participation events is here to stay and the causes helped by those fundraisers are a vital lifeline for millions. With the obesity epidemic in this country, there is an increasingly urgent need for people to be active, change lifestyle habits and set physical goals. Fundraising can play an increasing part in this if we continue to broaden the appeal of the event experience from regular runners/cyclists/swimmers to include the widest possible range people of all ages, backgrounds and demographics.
I look forward to helping our charity partners and participants work together on the way to our second billion.
Kenneth Foreman, Head of Charities, London Marathon Events Ltd
- event fundraising