By Sue Heineman
I am not an experienced runner. I hate asking people for money. I didn’t even have pets until my mid-40’s. So, how did I become the top fundraiser for the Washington Humane Society Marine Corps Marathon Team?
Prior to this year, the only long run I’d done was a half marathon in 2012. It was sort of a placeholder between active vacations – I backpack or bike tour for two to three weeks twice a year, but around town, I don’t have much of an exercise routine. I even skimped on the training for the half marathon because it made my feet hurt. People kept telling me that the full marathon is four times as hard as the half. It sounded horrible and pointless and I knew I wanted to do it.
Three years later, I discovered that the MCM fell on my 50th birthday. Tempting, right? Registration had long past, plus my feet still hurt sporadically, but I knew it was possible to get a bib late in the game by joining a charity team. Of the many great causes, the Washington Humane Society stood out for personal reasons. A few months earlier, my partner and I had adopted a pit bull named Bella. We were madly in love and I wanted to help more dogs like her.
I started with some short runs, contacted Rachel Thaler, WHS Special Events Coordinator, about joining the WHS team, and eventually felt optimistic enough to make it “Facebook Official.” Fundraising had begun.
When I didn’t feel like running, I thought of all the beautiful animals suffering (or worse) in shelters, and that was enough to get me to lace up. When I experienced foot pain, I went to my orthopedist and cross-trained in a swimming pool.
Other than a couple of awkward personal pleas, all of my fundraising took place on Facebook. I think it helped that my rescue credentials were already well established. Not only did I adopt Bella from WHS, but I have fostered many dogs and trapped many feral cats through CatNiPP. All of this has been well documented on Facebook and my pets have many fans. A few years ago I enlisted my music students to run a 5K in the Baltimore Running Festival and raise funds for the Baltimore Symphony. The “Bassoonists Bolting for the BSO raised $2300." This history of animal rescue and charitable activity definitely scored me some goodwill when it was time to raise funds for the MCM.
I also think doing something this ambitious and ridiculous on my 50th birthday grabbed people’s attention. I tried to be creative and mix up the fundraising posts — a good pet photo, a funny anecdote, a training milestone, etc. — and not oversaturate. I posted only every couple weeks but every time someone donated I’d thank — and tag -- them in the comments section, which sent the post through the magic Facebook algorithm back into the news feed and often triggered another donation. I had promised to match all funds since there was a $1000 minimum to reach and I wasn’t sure how this would go. That commitment ended up costing me $2600, meaning nearly $5200 for WHS!
I say “nearly” since some of my donors noticed that if they added a few cents to their donations they would appear higher on the site’s scrolling “Fundraising Honor Roll” and I couldn’t be bothered to add up the weird numbers. People also enjoyed choosing such honorifics as Rabbi, Reverend, Honorable, and Chairman at the donations page. This all is silly but the conversations about it increased the traffic on my posts.
I think there are many good ways to raise funds — I know people who have hosted dinner parties or game nights with a small buy-in, or teamed up with local restaurants to take donations, which really add up. There’s a lot of competition for people’s dollars and you have to fight through donor fatigue without adding to it. In some cases I’m giving to my friends’ charities and they’re giving right back, but I do think the conversations have an intangible reach. Several people have told me they’re considering adopting or fostering now, or even running a marathon!
Are you interested in fundraising for the Washington Humane Society? Contact Rachel Thaler, Special Events and Development Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.