On 22 April thousands of amateur runners will line up side-by-side with elite athletes for the London Marathon, one of the world’s most challenging charity fundraising events.

The London Marathon has raised more than £890 million since its inception in 1981 and is likely to break the £1 billion mark next year.

According to event sponsor Virgin Money, an estimated three-quarters of participants now run for a good cause, and the rise of digital technology has driven new levels of charity fundraising.

 

Social sponsorship

For London Marathon runners, technology means more time can be spent training while apps take the legwork out of collections for charity.

Fundraising pages offer runners the chance to manage donations easily and they can do all this without the need to doorstep their friends and neighbours.

 

Runners download smartphone apps linked to their fundraising pages to help keep track of their progress and share stories across social media to encourage donations. Virgin Money says people who download its bespoke app raise 19% more on average than those who do not.

The London Marathon sponsor also says people who don’t use social media raise £1,276 on average. Runners using Instagram and LinkedIn raise an average of £1,900 by comparison. Twitter users raise an average of £1,500 and those using Facebook can look to raise around £1,400.

 

Charities are going contactless

More generally, Blackbaud’s report reveals 21% of online donations in 2017 were made on a mobile device compared to 17% in 2016. The software developer added that non-profit organizations “must understand that mobile-friendly is linked to being donor-friendly.”

Over 2.5 billion people now own a smartphone, and these devices enable us to pay for products and transfer cash digitally. Charities are acutely aware of this shift to virtual cash and have begun exploring contactless collection.

In 2015 for instance, Visa and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) joined forces with Save the Children and a select group of innovative tech companies in a pioneering project to explore the use of contactless charity boxes.

The 100-day trial saw design students at the Royal College of Art create a charity box that incorporated contactless technology. The tins were based on the traditional “shakers” with a contactless card reader plate on top.

Meanwhile, last year 22 of the UK’s largest charities, including the British Heart Foundation, which TCS has chosen as a key charity, enabled contactless donations via Apple Pay.

 

 

Forging deeper connections with data

Charities are also embracing technology to connect with more people, and at a deeper level.

Speaking at the TCS Spark Salon event in March last year, Julie Dodd of Parkinson’s UK described the effect of installing a screen in the charity’s office that shows the real-time online searches people are carrying out connected with Parkinson’s.

This screen was designed to connect the charity to the people it works with and helps steer the services it delivers, she said.

Charities are also abandoning the traditional on-the-street clipboard collection of data and are going digital in a bid to reach new supporters. Oxfam recently swapped paper-based sign-up forms for mobile data solutions as part of its campaigning activity at festivals, teaming up with data capture firm WorkMobile.

According to Oxfam, using digital technologies at UK festivals has increased supporter interactions and collected thousands of new contacts.

WorkMobile’s chief support officer, Colin Yates, said: “Data and information about possible new supporters is extremely valuable to charities, especially when trying to maximise their fundraising activities and bring in more donations.

“But in today’s digital age, collecting and sharing information needs to be dynamic, with the ability to also link it to social media channels. Therefore, by switching to real-time paperless solutions, charities can engage with potential donators in a way they would want to participate in.”

 

Turning marathon fundraising into a sprint

For the tens of thousands of charity runners taking part in the 2018 London Marathon, a digital fundraising strategy will be almost as important as their physical training programme.

For many of them, every step of the 26.2 mile course will build into the Marathon experience they dreamed of – or dreaded. But thanks to the transformational impact of digital technology, the fundraising aspect of the event will feel like a short sprint by comparison.