Case Study: Using Social Media On A Small Scale To Raise Money For Charity

I’m a fanatical runner. I’m not particularly talented, but my dedication to my training enabled me to qualify for the 2008 Boston Marathon on April 21, 2008.

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the world’s most prestigious road racing events. Besides the Olympic trials and the Olympic marathons, Boston is the only major American marathon that requires a qualifying time.

Exactly two months before the race I announced that I would use social media and the Boston Marathon to raise money for cancer research.


Reaching the top of Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon The objective for this was simple:

  • Raise $3,000 for the world-class Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, based in Toronto (a somewhat arbitrary goal)
  • Raise awareness of my fundraising effort using social media, to see if these tactics would work for a promotional effort


I threw my PR knowledge largely out the window for this effort. I’d decided up-front that I would use entirely online tactics to see how effective they could be.

The tools I chose to use:

When I announced the initiative, this blog had 278 subscribers. My running site had very few. I had around 500 Twitter followers (Twitterholic‘s stats only go back to March 1) and my Utterz account had just a few subscribers.

I wrote seven posts on my PR blog:

I wrote three posts on my running blog:

I also wrote dozens of Twitter messages over the two months, updating people on my progress and providing information on how to donate. Lastly, I recorded frequent posts through Utterz. The posts were a mix of video, audio, text and pictures about my training for the race. I posted all of the recordings to my running site – along with the route maps from my runs, these 31 posts formed the ongoing record of my training through this effort.



While my running blog continued to receive negligible traffic, several posts to my PR blog received more:

  • Using Social Media To Support Cancer Research – 643 views
  • Another Social Media Miracle? – 285 views
  • Auction – 217 views

Over these two months, this blog grew to over 500 subscribers. How much of that is due to this fundraising effort, I can’t say. I’m pretty sure it didn’t hurt, though. Meanwhile, my running blog subscribers remained relatively static, while my Twitter contacts grew to roughly 825.

My announcement of the fundraising effort also spawned a mini-fundraiser with Keith Burtis and Tommy Vallier, who generously volunteered their time and effort to set up an online auction to raise additional funds.

The effort generated some healthy interest on Twitter. Unfortunately, Twitter’s historical search is far from comprehensive, but you can see some recent posts here (for now).


  • Raised $2,315 for Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation
  • I can trace 59% of the donations to people who only (or primarily) know me through my online presence
  • Oh, and I finished the marathon in 3:18:30

Success or Failure?

Looking strictly at the original objectives:

  • I failed to meet my original target of $3,000, but given that this was very arbitrary, I’m very happy with the money raised
  • Given the traffic to my site and the buzz generated on Twitter, I think the second objective was successfully achieved

This was a very small-scale effort, with zero budget and only occasional bursts of online activity. Was it a success? I’ll leave that to your judgement.

What do you think?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.