The Millennial Running Study: Turning Their Miles Logged into Your Mission Spread

April 12, 2016 Marssie Versola

Last month, a fascinating study was released called the Millennial Running Study.  Well, fascinating to me anyhow – being that I fit in both categories, and have made it my life’s work to encourage people to turn their passion for running into a catalyst for doing good in the world.

Something powerful happens when you connect fitness and fundraising.

From decades of self-experimentation and study, I can say that these two actions are a winning combination for hacking happiness. Not only do you reap the physical benefits of exercise —increased endorphins and reduced levels of stress hormones, but you get the bonus of the feel good powers of philanthropy. Giving makes us feel good. It’s a fact. Giving, in all its wondrous forms, has been proven to make people happier.

The study, which analyzed Millennial runners who participate in competitive running events (including 5Ks, half-marathons, etc.), sought to find their motivations for participation, and their preferences as it relates to event experiences, and behaviors around charity running. An overwhelming majority of respondents said the number one motivator for participating in running events is to improve and/or maintain their health and well-being.  Makes sense, right?  It’s what we all want—to be healthy and happy. Regardless of our generational categorization or fitness inclinations, the choices we all make have the underlying assumption that the outcome of our choice will increase our life satisfaction and improve our well being in the short or long term.

What does this mean for philanthropy?

The study offered some real food for thought as to how we can continue to engage the millennial generation through exercise.

86% of respondents said they participated in a running event that supports a cause or charity in the past year, and 77% of respondents said that they plan to sign up for one in the next 1-2 years. Most say they give to the charity through their registration fee and about 21% of respondents said they have fundraised as a part of their participation in running events. It’s worth noting that the research does not reflect individuals who participated in fundraising centric events (i.e. American Cancer Society, etc).

In looking at this number (21%), it’s clear there is still so much opportunity to cultivate new charity runners from this cause oriented, socially connected, peer motivated generation.

As Derrick Feldman explained, nearly 42 million Americans are considered runners/joggers today, and approximately 18 million of those are between the ages of 18 and 34 year-old. Millennials (born 1980-2000) now account for more than a quarter of the nation’s population, which speaks to their profound ability to change the norms of the workplace, philanthropy, culture, technology, recreation and societal behavior—including the sport of running. And Millennials are one of the most cause oriented cohorts of people in our society today, and are in general noted for having an affinity for “doing good.

So I reflected on the report’s findings and my own experience as a charity runner and millennial.

When I decided to set my goal on running a distance event, I knew it was going to take more than just a commitment to myself to help me run a half marathon. I knew I would need the support of others.

I’d always run solo because I was intimidated to run with other people. What if I couldn’t  keep pace?  What if I couldn’t run as far as the others? Those concerns quickly dissipated when I connected with my fellow runners and the cause. When I began to include fundraising and running for a bigger purpose into my training, I found meaning. The race was no longer just about reaching a goal.

When I thought about those I was running for—those whose pain was greater than mine, those whose pain I could help to take away if I continued to press on—I found strength, courage, and reserves of energy I never knew I had.

I learned about the impact I was making on other peoples lives. I received encouragement, support, and gratitude from friends and family who donated to my campaign. What started as a means to an end became so much more.

How can we encourage higher adoption?

Millennials runners want to be healthy and happy, to feel good, to be delighted. Research is surfacing all the time that shows giving and altruistic behavior is mutually beneficial for everyone involved—increasing happiness, wellbeing, and connection. Let’s follow the lead of the running giants, fitness magazines, and the exercise industry and do an a better job of advertising and educating people on the benefits of giving.

According to the study, overall experience is incredibly important to millennials, and was the second most common motivator for Millennials choosing to participate in events. Millennials and consumers in general expect quality and an enjoyable experience when they invest in a product or service. For Millennials participating in running events, they expect the experience to keep running front and center (most look at the distance/length, cost and physical challenge of the race).

They also have high expectations when it comes to digital and email communications.  This generation of runners expects to receive communications that are straightforward and simple in terms of messaging and frequency. Charity programs that are antiquated, difficult to navigate, unclear or disorganized will simply not make the cut. Above all, event directors and their nonprofit partners must work together to create a seamless and streamlined approach to charity programming, ensuring that participants receive the highest quality experience leading up to, during and after the event.

They want to be delighted. We all do. So follow their lead. Connect. Delight. Feel good. This way, we all win.

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