Digital fundraising | Events

Marathon saga reaches finish line for 2020

3 minute read
London Marathon update for charities

The news of the change in format for the London Marathon with no mass participation event is terrible news for the charity sector. This is the right decision from a public health perspective. However, it is yet another blow to charities which have faced ever increasing demands on their services whilst so many of their fundraising routes have been cut off. 

No doubt it will be back bigger and better than ever in 2021. For 2020, there is a vast income gap to understand and attempt to bridge for charities. 

The UK’s Biggest Fundraiser

It’s easy to underestimate how significant the funds raised by the London Marathon are to charities. The figures tell a stark story. Last year, the marathon raised a record breaking £66.4 million. To put that into context, in 2019 all of the top 25 mass participation events organised by charities in the UK raised £143 million between them. One event on one day raises 46% of the amount raised by the sector’s most significant events combined.

This underlines just how significant the cancellation of the mass participation event is. And these figures only account for the direct fundraising from the marathon. It doesn’t take account of the halo effect of friends and family making donations.  

Bridging the Income Gap 

How can charities fill the income gap that has appeared in their budgets without the marathon? At least part of the answer lies with virtual events. These have been the talk of the town since lockdown first started in March. The organisers of the marathon have suggested participants consider doing a virtual marathon for this year, while also offering the opportunity to defer entry to 2021.

While there has been a lot of talk of virtual events being new, charities have been coming up with virtual fundraising ideas since the web and social media became part of our daily lives. Movember, the Ice Bucket Challenge, No Make Up Selfie, and RED January are all campaigns where the central idea is virtual rather than in person. At a conservative estimate these campaigns alone have raised about £300 million.

But of course it’s not just about these huge fundraising campaigns, there’s been a host of smaller virtual event ideas that charities have used from running a marathon across a number of days or weeks to climbing the equivalent of Mount Everest on your stairs.

Virtually a Marathon 

If you have supporters entered into the marathon, and want to harness that enthusiasm then why not run your own virtual marathon? You could hold this on the 4th October, so they use the date they’ve been training for. You could also look at alternatives such as giving them the option of running 26.2 miles over a number of days. 

If you split the event out over a few days, you could also invite your other supporters to take part. They could do this either as a team doing a relay or completing it as individuals over a few days. 

Another option could be giving your supporters 26 days to complete a series of shorter distances from 4th October. Away from running, you could run a virtual sporting pub quiz and invite supporters to organise their own. There’s a huge variety of ways to use virtual events to help you fundraise. You can even run hybrid physical and virtual events to enable wider participation in your campaigns. This will also provide you with some much needed flexibility in the current circumstances. 


Getting started with virtual events can seem a little daunting. We’ve created a guide covering everything from coming up with your idea through planning how to deliver a strong finish. Coming up with an approach where you can roll out a regular series of events can help you to bridge the income gap from the ongoing crisis.

You can get hold of the guide here.

By Chester Mojay-Sinclare

7 August, 2020

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