Thon Fundraising Turned Upside Down By Social And Mobile Technology

Charity runs, walks, rides, triathlons, hikes, climbs, swims and other peer-to-peer fundraising events are a multibillion dollar business, according to the annual surveys conducted by our team at the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council. 

There are many ways of measuring the positive impact of such community-based programs, but cash raised has always been the #1 metric.   And the basic format of having supporters reach out to their friends with the message “I’m going to participate in this organized activity, please sponsor me” has been the M.O. for years.

Fueled by the rise of easily accessible digital media tools, we noticed tremendous experimentation going on around the world in the peer to peer space this year.  A few examples:

The smartphone app Charity Miles eliminates the need for runners, walkers and bikers to participate in organized events or ask friends for money. Once people install the app on their phone, they can earn money for every mile they cover (25¢ for running or walking, 10¢ for cycling.)



New York-based Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff and his investors have put up an initial $1 million in sponsorship funds and have challenged athletes around the world to earn it for charities in a year.  Charity Miles is seeking corporate sponsors to increase the pool by offering them the chance to have their messages viewed on the smartphones of participating consumers.

Over time, the range of charities will expand beyond its 10 nonprofit launch partners, which include Autism Speaks, Feeding America, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Resarch and Pencils of Promise.

“By working together, we can all become sponsored athletes,” says Gurkoff. “Just like the pros, but for charity. And there are a lot more of us than there are pro athletes. So, just imagine how we can change the world.”

UK-based The DoNation empowers thon participants to ask friends not for money but, rather, to adopt certain behaviors that will reduce their carbon footprint such as cycling to work, installing solar panels or eating less meat.

As founder Hermione Taylor puts it, “The DoNation is about making things happen by socializing green issues and supporting friends with meaningful action.  CO2 is our currency rather than cash, so people raising sponsorship can set targets, and their friends can see what tangible contribution their supporting action is having, both individually and collectively.”

Pledgeit turns the traditional model around by enabling individuals to challenge their friends to do something by offering to make a donation in their honor. I love the low-key British humor contained in the program’s description offered up by its creators at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the UK:

“So we’ve all got mates who sit around saying things like ‘I’ll run that marathon next year,’ ‘I could totally make a gingerbread house if I wanted to’ or ‘One day I’d like to do something to change the world.’ Well, talk is cheap and it’s time for you to get them off that sofa and give them the gift of achievement.

“All you have to do is set up a challenge, and pledge that if they complete it, you’ll donate some money to help beat cancer.”

None of these upstarts is poised to replace the traditional friends asking friends for cash contributions, but they are fabulous indicators that thon fundraising has not atrophied into a one-size-fits-all coma. Hope to see much more experimentation in 2013!

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