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Fundraising heroes: How I raised £35,000 using social media

Marathon runner John shares his story and how you can turn posts into pounds

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon runner John running on the track

Fundraising heroes: How I raised £35,000 using social media

John Friend ran the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon for the 35,000 people in the UK living with incurable breast cancer. He set himself a target of £1 for every one of them, raising over £35,000 for Action Against Cancer. The vast majority of his fundraising was done via social media: here, he shares his story and offers his tips for how others can turn posts into pounds.

What inspired you to run the Virgin Money London Marathon?

“In 2016, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one person being diagnosed every ten minutes, and my mum was one of the 35,000 people in the UK living with incurable breast cancer. So I set out to run the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon in the name of the 35,000 who do the impossible day in and day out and my mother who passed away on 11th December 2018.”

You raised a phenomenal amount of money – nearly £40k – how did you do it?

"I think the answer to that question is twofold. First, I told a very honest and personal account of what life is like for a metastatic cancer patient and the realities of the suffering involved from the perspective of a son who felt hopeless. While one in two people in the UK will get cancer, my family’s battle with this abhorrent disease taught me that very few people actually understand the suffering and torment involved until they have to experience it. Almost all of my fundraising was achieved via social media, and these posts would often take me hours or even days to write – just don't tell my boss that!”

“A couple weeks before the marathon, I posted a photo from my hardest training run with the caption: ‘When the time came to give my mother’s friends the good news I stumbled across a note of hers which simply read: ‘My diagnoses was terrifying, it felt like a death sentence. Then again, it is I guess.’ For two and a half years my mother lived with no hope, but never once did I see her stop smiling, even once she had perished. Last night was the hardest run of my training thus far and it’s that very smile that got me through it. That smile is the very reason that I won’t stop running, walking, crawling, or whatever it is that is required of me to facilitate the end of cancer just that bit sooner, because we’re all in this together and everyone deserves hope. 35,000 Doing The Impossible https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JohnFriend #35KDoingTheImpossible #ActionAgainstCancer’

“Second, I was raising money for a very specific cause that my mother and I believed in and, more importantly, one which gave family, friends and strangers alike a way to help. That cause is a potentially revolutionary research project that seeks to find the answer to metastatic cancer in just two and a half years. While we were fully aware that the benefits of this project would be realised too late to help mum, it would at least mean that others with metastatic cancer wouldn't have to endure what she had to.”

What is your advice for first-time marathon runners who may feel overwhelmed about the fundraising challenge ahead of them?

“Research your cause until you are obsessed with it, because ultimately your fundraising limits are only bound by your passion. Remember though, whatever the reason behind your fundraising, the world is a better place for it, and that is all that counts.”

What should they definitely not do?

“Don’t do what 99.9% of all fundraisers do and simply ask people to sponsor you! I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’, but it’s critical that in your messaging you convey to your audience why your cause is so important to you and the vital difference their donation will make. The truth of the matter is, there are so many worthy causes out there that people are fundraising for and no single cause is more important than another. This world becomes a better place, however, one small action at a time and people are more likely to be receptive to your campaign if they genuinely believe your fundraising will have an impact.”

Which social media channel worked the best for you?

“I am a part of the Instagram generation and so that was my primary port of call, however, Facebook certainly played its part too. Be sure not to rule out the old school email write-around though.”

How important were real-world events?

“I found connecting real-world events to my fundraising campaign was a great way to impassion others. A good example of this is a post I did on International Women’s Day not long after my mum had moved on to a better place. I posted two pictures: one of my brothers and I meeting Dr Nina Moderau, the lead scientist working on the research project that we were fundraising for, as well as my favourite photo of my mum, and the post was captioned: ‘On this International Women’s Day there are only two women on my mind. One, my mother, showed me more strength and resilience than any man has ever shown me to be capable of – cancer was the least of her dramas, she had to put up with me for twenty-four years! The other, Dr Nina Moderau, seeks to be, in just two and a half years, the first person with the answer to cancer, and I am going to do everything in my power to make sure she does just that. https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JohnFriend #35KDoingTheImpossible #ActionAgainstCancer #InternationalWomensDay’”

You are now setting up your own charity – can you tell me more about that?

“When I told my mum I would be raising £35,000, she immediately asked me why it was not a million and why my brothers and I were not starting our own charity to beat this disease once and for all? So that’s exactly what my brothers and I are doing. We have created a charity called ‘Team Antoinette’, which sole purpose is to fund revolutionary research that will find the answers to cancer and fulfil my mother’s final wish ‘that one day others with this disease will have hope.’ For anyone that is interested please check out https://www.team-antoinette.org and get in touch because we’re all in this together!”

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