This past spring, Sally, my friend and coworker, convinced me to run a half marathon to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). I signed up on a whim, but the reality of running 13 miles (I could probably just run three), and the fundraising minimum of $3,300 (more than I have in savings) set in quickly. Sally is a survivor of childhood Leukemia, and she had recently run the Maine Marathon and raised an incredible $20,000 for LLS. I was impressed by both her running and fundraising, so when she asked me to join her and Dave, her boyfriend, for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, I said yes. We were required to raise a collective $9,900 just to participate, but we set a goal of $25,000 in celebration of Sally being cancer-free for 25 years.
Sally’s story is amazing. She was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of three-and-a-half, and endured countless rounds of chemo. Her memories of being too weak to walk up the stairs, and having indoor Halloween celebrations because she was too sick to go outside are heart-wrenching. These details, plus the fact that before her marathon last year she had never run more than a mile, are genuinely inspiring, and I think they inspire people to give money.
Because of Sally’s story, it felt important for me have my own story to share with people when I asked them for money. We were running as a company team (Team Lisa Ekus Group), and we work in the culinary industry. I wanted to weave together the different threads: Sally’s history, the culinary industry, running, raising money for a cancer research organization. To me, the common thread was health. I had recently had some completely non-life threatening health issues, and I wanted to take the opportunity to really embrace the health and good luck that I do have. The culinary industry also has a tendency of developing food-obsessions that are totally benign, but in a sea of bacon-wrapped meat and deep fried butter, it’s easy to forget that eating can be about more than just consumption—it can be about health. And if we are eating burgers topped with foie gras, it’s only because we are incredibly lucky.
I agonized about what exactly I wanted to say. It feels very cheesy to make a big statement about why you are doing something, but in the end (well, almost the end) I’m glad I did, because I think it gave me a real clarity of purpose that hopefully helped distinguish me from all your other half-marathon running friends. You can read what I ended up writing here.
Once I had written my statement, we began to brainstorm a list of fundraising efforts we wanted to try out. Asking family members seemed like a good place to start, and then we had some other ideas—an event? Frequent Facebook posts? Would local businesses support us? What about a press release? Donation incentives?
I mined my address book, and sent an email asking for donations out to my friends and family. Sally and Dave did as well, but we also sent a wider email to all our clients offering a few incentives for donations. We sent a press release to local and industry (culinary and publishing) media. We had a dinner party with donated food, supplies, and time, and we collected cash and checks made out to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society from all the attendees.
By far, most of our donations have come from people we know personally, in response to an email, a physical letter, a Facebook posting, or a personal ask. I have been shocked, overwhelmed, and moved to tears by the generosity of people I know. It is a huge privilege to have an extended network that I even feel comfortable asking for money. I completely understand that not everyone can give, and I feel really grateful for every donation we do receive.
In this “Age of Social Media,” it’s so easy to feel simultaneously isolated from and connected to everyone you have ever met, but I have been so happily surprised to receive donations and notes from people I hadn’t seen in years—a buddy from summer camp, a friend from my first year of college, my high school prom date—and I definitely have Facebook to thank for that.
Fundraising has also made me more generous with my friends’ causes. The proliferation of Indiegogo/Kickstarter/Gofundme campaigns has made them easy to ignore, but realizing how difficult it is to ask directly for money, and what a difference even $20 can make in reaching a goal, has made me way more open to giving to my friends’ causes. It feels great to be getting this support, and it feels great to give it, as well.
Seeing this unimaginable generosity, getting to re-connect with people, and feeling more willing and able to donate myself has actually made fundraising a real pleasure.
Team Lisa Ekus Group has raised about $16,000 to date, which is a number I feel very proud of, but is still a long way from our goal. We are continuing to ask local businesses for their support. We are combing our extended networks for people to whom we can reach out to. And pretty soon, we’ll be off and running.