BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 11:54 UK

How to prioritise marathon sponsorship requests

Three non-elite marathon runners

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

The London Marathon is on Sunday and e-mail inboxes have been full for some time with sponsorship requests. But how do you go about turning one down?

The e-mail usually goes something like this:

From: Someone You Barely Know

Subject: I must be mad

Message: Hi guys

Hard to believe, I know, but I'm running the marathon this year. Had to put the booze and pies on hold. Hope you can see your way to sponsoring me. Doing it for a good cause. It's Charity X. Follow this link to donate.


Someone You Barely Know

Now most people are going to be sympathetic enough to donate to one or two marathon-powered charities this year. If a mate's running in your local fun run, it seems churlish not to give a bob or two to the good cause they're advocating.

But in recent years, the odd sponsorship request has turned, for those in larger offices, into a form of electronic bombardment.

Justgiving is among private for-profit companies handling online fundraising
Handled £15m of London Marathon sponsorship last year
Expects £17-18m this year
Advises fundraising runners to concentrate on close friends and family

It may perhaps be due to the rise of e-mail as a method of communication that allows you to ask for money from more people than would usually be possible. Most people would shy away from personally approaching 500 colleagues. But with a group e-mail, it's a mere "ctrl" and "enter" away.

And while most people will feel sympathetic enough to sponsor one or two people, what do you do if you get 10 e-mails asking for money? Or 20? Or 50?

It's a classic workplace moral/social dilemma. How do you get out of your nth sponsorship request without feeling like a Scrooge-like pariah?

Here a behavioural expert and assertiveness coach, and an ethicist try to offer a solution.


Judi James believes the first thing to do is to be prepared. In the run-up to the London Marathon or other big charity runs, you should already have a plan for how to deal with multiple sponsorship requests.

"I teach face-to-face assertive skills and it's still a struggle for me.

"A lot of people seem to be very good at catching you on the hop where you will be more likely to buckle and get feelings of resentment afterwards.

Runners at the start of the London Marathon
Vast numbers of runners need sponsorship

"When you are teaching people about influencing and persuading people... if you catch them on the hoof they won't have time to plan their excuse. You need to have learned your excuse before people start approaching you.

"You do need to be a bit proactive. It does tend to be seasonal and it's worth getting your brain in gear in the build-up."

No-one should feel guilty about not acceding to every person who asks, James says.

"In modern society we are bombarded with requests from charities, from the chuggers in the street onwards. You have to focus on the one key charity or the key person you are going to donate to."

In other words, there's no better excuse than saying you've picked one runner that's a close friend and is representing a charity that you feel strongly about and you are giving all of your charity money to them. You mustn't then be steamrollered into giving to other people.

Don't do it with a bah humbug
Judi James

"It needs to be a little mantra you have got in a compartment in your head," says James. "You need to be on the alert in the toilets, in the lift, wherever.

"Create a 'gap'. Say 'you've caught me on the hop, let me think about it, where will you be tomorrow?'. Hopefully they will think you are considering how much to give them when in fact you won't be."

But don't be rude. Just as you should answer spoken requests politely, so if somebody you know well e-mails you, let them down gently.

But what of those people who genuinely don't want to give a penny to charity? Just admit it, says James.

"If you are going to turn them down wholesale you've got to be honest.

"As charity appeals are getting to be more common it is coming to look less misanthropic. But don't do it with a bah humbug."


One tactic you may want to avoid, says Roger Crisp, is saying you won't be giving money to any single charity runner because you think it's unfair to give to just one and not to every cause that's out there.

"That's like saying if you could save only one child, and there were five children to save, you wouldn't save any of them."

Charity collection boxes
E-mail allows you to ask near strangers for donations

The key to a philosophy of marathon-running sponsorship, says Crisp, is not seeing each request as an individual demand, but looking it in the context of an annual charity budget.

"There is a very impartial perspective where you think I've got £10 in my pocket at the moment. If I give it to this person and it's going to a good cause that will produce a certain amount of good."

But if you keep on thinking like that, says Mr Crisp, you will end up with no money left. If it's genuinely just a case of making a single moral calculation every time you are asked for fun run sponsorship, how would you turn any down? There is a vast array of good causes.

"My own view is that people ought to be a bit more rational about it. Decide how much money can I give... how much is reasonable to give over the next year."

Australian philosopher Peter Singer has suggested giving 10% of your income to charity, which would probably cover all the marathon sponsorship requests even in a large sized office. The concept will be familiar to many church-goers, who give a tithe (old English for a tenth) to good causes.

And, says Mr Crisp, there is a complicating factor in your calculation of whether or not to sponsor a runner. Rather than just being a moral calculation, it is as much a question of what social obligation you owe the person asking to support them in their activities.

Which wins, a stranger running for a cause you believe in, or your best friend doing it for an organisation you think is frivolous?

And there is a philosophical way out for those curmudgeons who genuinely don't want to give a penny for charity. You could always take a position of extreme "rational egoism", says Crisp, and politely tell the marathon fundraiser that you plan to do only what is in your self-interest.

Struggling with similar moral or social workplace dilemma? Tell us using the form below.

A useful ploy to use for people asking for sponsorship for engaging in some fun activity, marathon, parachute jump etc, is to offer to pay £100 to their worthy charity if they do something useful to earn it. Shopping for elderly residents, gardening, car washing, and picking up litter all come to mind, but for some reason seem to be unacceptable.
John Faulkner, Westbury, Wiltshire, UK

My method is simple. I cultivate an attitude of curmudgeonly grumpiness to such an extent that even managers and directors are afraid to come anywhere near me in case I get vexed or say something complicated at them. Anybody who does ask for sponsorship gets it. Fortune favours the bold.
Ian, Redditch

The face to face ones are much harder to deal with. The hardest are the glowing, hopeful faces of next-door's little ones clutching their sponsorship forms for the Sponsored Sit in the Park Reading a Book or whatever. Especially when they are backed up by their mum, whose lawnmower, circular saw or spike-heeled thigh boots are still waiting to be returned after you borrowed them last month.
Sandy, Derby, UK

I already give 40% of my income. Unfortunately, it doesn't go to a good cause - it goes to Alistair Darling.
Ollie, London, UK

I'm running the London Marathon this year for the first time and raising money for Alzheimer's Society. I think this article's rather over-egged: out of the 6000 or so colleagues in the place where I work, maybe one of us runs a marathon each year. I e-mailed around 200 people I felt I knew well enough to ask to sponsor me. In general people have been generous, though some people I know well haven't responded yet. I wouldn't dream of asking someone I'd already emailed to sponsor me.
Caroline, London, UK

It was worse at our office, a guy I'd never spoken to and barely even seen, came marching up to all our desks and forcibly asked everyone if they would sponsor him, I declined but most people felt compelled to sign up without a word.
Chris Milburn, Tonbridge,England

Many people use special charity accounts, which ensures the charity gets maximum tax benefits and that they collect any potential 'matching' contributions from employers. If this is the case, it is perfectly reasonable to respond to sponsorship requests by saying you'll give directly to the charity involved rather than via sponsorship. This way the charity gets more money and you can give whatever you wish.
K O'Mahoney, London

If you don't want to give to a charity then don't. There is no need to make excuses. I am running the marathon this year and I sent a corporate wide e-mail to my colleagues. The response was good but I expected that a lot of people would not sponsor me for some reason or other - that's their choice and no one judges them for it.

To use language like "[fill in name of charity helping sick photogenic children here]" as an introduction into dealing with "chuggers" is disgusting and you should be ashamed. Children with leukaemia are not particularly photogenic.
Richard Landers, Ipswich

I used to give a lot. But, now I give nothing as it's become big business. Each charity employs a whole army of fund-raisers which diverts funds from where the money may do most good. These days it seems more like a stealth-tax. If there are such notable long-term causes then then should be properly funded by the government. People have so little spare change these days and I think that these long-term good-causes should be lobby government for proper funding.
Ah, London

Working for a company that has well over 2,000 employees, I have been on the receiving end of such bombardments before. I have a very specific mind-set when it comes to donating to charity and don't mind voicing it when necessary. Firstly, I much prefer to donate to smaller, local charities, to whom even a modest donation would make a huge difference that you can actually see. Secondly, if I get a few sponsorship requests for similar charities in quick succession, a very simple rule of thumb is most effective: first-come-first-served. I still have to use a bit of judgement in certain circumstances, but they pretty much cover most eventualities.
Kevin C, Wirral

I won't sponsor anyone doing something less than I can do myself. As a fit and active person, that really limits sponsorship requests that I'll consider seriously. No 10k runs, no 50m abseils, no dressing up in a bathtub of beans. As for the London Marathon. It's one pot first come, first served. Naturally I let people know this so they can be quick to book me for the next year. Hasn't happened yet.
Andrew Rodgers, Peterborough, UK

What the article doesn't address is for those runners who are doing it for themselves and not for any particular charity. I want to sign up for a 5km race, but people are surprised that there is no sponsored charity to support. I'm no Paula Radcliffe, but I just want to run to prove to myself that I can, without having to gain sponsorship. Perhaps one day I will run for charity, but for now, just let me run.
Jennifer, London

The charity appeal I have a lot of difficulty with is the one that says, "Sponsor me to walk the Andes trail/ work on a project in Madagascar, Namibia etc/sail the Caribbean in a luxury yacht" (I made the last one up). These always seem little more than working holidays/adventures - maybe with the emphasis on holiday/adventure. The time, effort and money would be better spent digging a pensioner's garden, working in a soup-kitchen or similar. If people want to travel then why ask me to pay for it?
Ian Craft, Southam, UK

Although an average person may get many requests for sponsorship, remember that all those people are doing an event (run, cycle, trek etc) that requires significant time, training and commitment for their favourite cause. A cause that one day many of us might well be benefiting from anyway.

Events like the London Marathon are amazing opportunities to interact with our wider community and support good causes. Such is the breadth of choice available these days for people wanting to do something "physical" for charity there just might be an ideal opportunity for you to do something for a good cause, and so you'll get you chance to ask colleagues for their 10%.
Simon Ekless, The PACE Centre, charity providing intensive programmes for children with physical disabilities

The word "charity" is sometimes wielded as a moral club to mug someone into a donation. Before opening your wallet or signing a promissory note, the moral priority (balancing the money you are depriving you and your family) is to ascertain whether the charity is a cause you truly believe in.
Julio Espin, London, UK

I find this article quite sad. I am doing a sponsored run in two weeks time and have asked quite a few friends and colleagues to sponsor me and on the whole they have responded very generously. I would hate to think they felt pressured or awkward about the whole thing but when it comes down to it every penny counts. I would much rather someone donated £1 to my charity than put in for my birthday card or bought me a coffee one lunch break.
Ellie, Sheffield

So Mr Singer thinks we should give 10% of our income to charity? Perhaps he would like to pay my mortage and bills for me in that case. Personally I find it very simple to refuse to sponsor everyone who asks, just say no, politely but firmly. There is no need to give any excuse and indeed to do so gives an opening for the asker to argue or persuade.
Kate Corwyn, Bristol, UK

I get sick of people asking for sponsorship where they are doing something they want to do or enjoy - I want to do a parachute jump, my child will read one page from a book at school etc. But I will happily consider requests where activity involves personal hardship or effort. For the marathon, I have offered 50p/mile, doubled if completed in 15 mins under target time, or offer on a rising scale where the last mile might be worth the previous 25 put together.
M Williams, Towcester

I turn down any charity requests by telling the collector that I give to charity on a weekly, or sometimes bi-weekly, basis. I usually neglect to tell them that I may end up winning millions on the lottery if my numbers come up!
Robert, Worthing

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