A Runner’s Guide to the Annual Fund Marathon

I’m a runner. I love those solitary mornings when it’s just me and the road. And I chase the feeling of beating a tough hill, finishing a long course, or just coming home tired and happy from a jog.


For my fellow fundraisers, whether you like to jog or not, the lessons I’ve learned as a runner translate well to our favorite marathon: the annual giving campaign.

Preparation Pays Off: Equip and Empower Your Volunteers

As a runner, you don’t wake up on race day, lace up, and take off. That one day is the result of weeks or months of physical and mental preparation, which pays off with every step from start to finish.

Likewise, the annual giving campaign requires careful training and preparation. Volunteers and team members need to be empowered with the knowledge about why we rely on annual support. They need to have the appropriate assets and stories to support asks, and must be fully invested in the plan that gets us to the goal ahead. This takes a lot of time and preparation, but the payoff is a strong team that’s prepared to run the full race and finish strong.

Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Chunks

Running a race requires perspective. Looking at a marathon as a single 26.2 mile loop is intimidating, but mentally attacking each mile as a standalone goal helps you conquer the course.

It’s the same with the annual fund. You can either look at it as one massive, year-long goal or as 12 individual months to acquire a handful of game-changing major gifts and steadily fill out each tier of your gift pyramid. That pyramid exists for a reason; it gives you a checklist to cross things off item by item. Approach it that way, and before you know it, you’ll be kicking it down the final stretch.

Dress for Success

When my wife ran her first marathon, she followed a training program that suggested buying a special race-day outfit to wear as a reward for all the hard work she’d put in. I’m not saying you have to wear a sparkly purple headband to work every day, but it might not hurt!

In the fundraising world, we can dress for success by designing irresistible asks, making sure our giving form delights our donors, and showing donors why their support makes a difference. 

Bursts of Speed Infuse Energy

There’s a neat little training program called the 30-20-10 method. You jog for 30 seconds, run for 20 seconds, and sprint for 10. Repeat that five times, take a two-minute walk, repeat the routine again, and you’re done for the day. These speed intervals get you through the miles quickly and build endurance for the long race.


In the same way, infusing your annual campaign with short-term campaigns (like a #GivingTuesday push or a one-day campaign) and using segmented appeals to reach a small, targeted audience provide short bursts as you gain ground on the overall goal.

Celebrate Along the Way

I ran my first distance races with a running buddy. We attacked each course side-by-side, giving each other fist-bumps at every mile marker. It was a silly little tradition, but it kept us going.

Don’t wait until June to celebrate or thank your staff and volunteers. Small celebrations when you hit key milestones—or even an occasional “thank you” email—can go a long way towards keeping your team motivated.

Focus on the Goal

When you run a marathon, people always ask why you do it. For every runner, the goal is different. Maybe it’s to raise money for a good cause or to honor a loved one—or because you’re flat-out insane.

As fundraisers, we also need to keep our focus on the goal. Why are we asking for gifts? Is it to make sure the budget stays in the black? No. We raise money so our institutions can continue changing lives.

Don’t forget that. You are raising money to make the world a better place. In the end, that goal is far greater than your target amounts of dollars and donors.

Run strong, run well!

Learn how EverTrue can help you crush the end of the annual fund in this quick video

Mike Nagel is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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