By Jason Gardner
In my social circles, it is well known that I take running very seriously. As an elite runner, marathons and spontaneous off-road excursions are a big part of my life. As a Jewish communal professional, I spend a fair share of my time encouraging others to incorporate running into their lives. The reasoning is simple.
In addition to the physical and emotional advantages enjoyed by the runner, pounding the pavement also represents an unparalleled fundraising opportunity. By marrying an inspirational act of human strength and will with an equally stirring organizational story, runners can open hearts and wallets to help support some very deserving charities and causes.
With running becoming more popular than ever, numerous nonprofits around the world have tapped into the power of “philanthropy in motion,” establishing their own marathon teams and social fundraising tools. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a serious runner who doesn’t campaign for a favorite cause.
But it’s truly a two-way street. Running for a cause benefits the runner in just as many ways as it does the nonprofit:
- Motivation – Running a marathon is a daunting task for even the most elite runners, and completing a 10k can pose quite the challenge to beginners. Sometimes, the pressure is so intense that runners bow out, either during the race or before they even reach the starting line. But when you run for a charity that you believe in, you find the strength to fight through the pain and complete the race in order to ensure the greatest benefit to your cause of choice.
- Publicity – When you run for a cause, you will be raising both funds and awareness – prospective donors and volunteers will be thinking about your organization well after the race is over. As an example, ALEH, Israel’s largest and most advanced network of residential facilities for children with severe intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, always chooses the brightest branded colors for their running shirts so that volunteers and runners stand out on race day. During the Jerusalem Marathon, spectators and athletes alike make a sport out of picking ALEH’s bright green shirts out of the crowd.
- Gratitude – More often than not, individuals have a very personal reason for selecting a charity, including a family member, friend or the runner himself benefitting from the services provided. Giving back to the organization through running is a profound expression of appreciation.
- Friendship – Not everyone likes to run alone. By joining a team to support your cause, you will meet other like-minded people in your area. The camaraderie offered by these other runners will make a huge difference during training and on race day. You might even form a bond with some of your fellow runners and formulate a plan to make more great things happen for the cause you all believe in.
- Self-Respect – Runners and fundraisers alike should never underestimate the ‘feel good’ factor. The very idea that you are helping further a cause or supporting individuals less fortunate than yourself make a powerful impact on your sense of self-worth. This feeling will help you reach your fundraising goals and will carry over into every other area of your life.
There’s no denying that running is the ultimate challenge for your mind, body and spirit. But all of the pain and sacrifice becomes truly worthwhile when you realize that every stride you take makes a real difference in the lives of others. No matter whether you finish first or last, when you dedicate your run to a cause that’s close to your heart, the virtues of charity and generosity claim a decisive victory.
Jason Gardner is the Director of Development & Marketing in the USA & Canada for ALEH, Israel’s largest and most advanced network of residential facilities for children with severe intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. A resident of Jerusalem, Jason has run 4 marathons, 3 ultra-marathons, and numerous half-marathons since he began running 4 years ago.