News & Media

Charity History

As a fundraising event, there is no race in the world that comes close to the London Marathon.

An iconic image of the event is the thousands of runners traipsing the streets to raise money for charity, many in fancy dress, hoping to stand out as a rhino, football mascot, giant tree, or escaped convict.

More than three quarters of competitors now run for a good cause and a third of all entry places are offered by charitable organisations.

Charity involvement in the race

The role of charities in the London Marathon hasn’t always been as prominent as it is today. In the early years, it was the runners who took it upon themselves to raise sponsorship money for their causes.

In 1984, the London Marathon named its first ‘official charity’ and granted the Sports Aid Foundation some entry places to help their fundraising. The London Marathon has had one or two official charities every year since (see below for a full list).

As charity involvement grew, the organisers decided to offer more places to a wider range of charities. In 1993, they introduced the Golden Bond scheme to enable charities to gain places. Under this scheme, hundreds of charities buy guaranteed entries for £300 each, which they then offer to the runners who’ve missed out on a ballot place. Runners who take one of these places commit to raise a four figure sum for their cause, often called a ‘pledge’.

Over the last 15 years, this scheme has grown and now includes more than 750 British charities with a total of 15,000 guaranteed places. 

Another 550 charities are involved in a Silver Bond scheme which guarantees one entry place every five years. The growth of charity involvement in the London Marathon has been so great the race has entered the record books. In 2007, £46.5 million was raised for good causes by runners, making the London Marathon a Guinness world record breaker as the largest single annual fundraising event in the world. That record has been broken every year since, with more than £59 million raised in 2016. Following the 2016 race, more than £830m had been raised for charity by London Marathon competitors since 1981.

The London Marathon Charitable Trust

In addition, London Marathon Events Ltd – the company that organises the race – has produced a total of more than £64.5 million for its own charity, The London Marathon Charitable Trust. These funds are distributed to help build community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around London. Over the years it has helped more than 1,130 projects. In 1999, The Trust established the London Marathon Playing Fields Scheme to help protect London’s playing fields from development. The trustees put money aside so they could buy playing fields threatened by developers and maintain them for recreational and sporting use. To date, nine sites have been saved by the fund.

Official charities of the London Marathon

Year Charity
1984 Sports Aid Foundation
1985 Jimmy Saville’s Marathon Appeal
1986 Middlesex Hospital Research Fund
British Sports Association for the Disabled
1987 St Thomas’s Hospital (heart research)
Farnham Park Trust
British Sports Association for the Disabled
1988 Wishing Well Appeal
Sports Aid Foundation
1989 Community Action Trust
The Evelina Children’s Family Trust
Special Olympics
1990 Battle of Britain Appeal
Community Action Trust
1991 Action on Addiction
Royal Marsden Cancer Research
1992 Guys Hospital, The Evelina Children’s Hospital
Tuskforce 
1993 St John Ambulance
Snowden Award Scheme
1994 British Heart Foundation
Childline
1995 Leonard Cheshire Disability
Cancer Relief Macmillan
1996 British Heart Foundation
National Asthma Campaign
1997 British Heart Foundation
NSPCC
1998 Age Concern
Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund
1999 Whizz Kidz
Leukaemia Research
2000 Mencap
2001 MS Society
2002 Outward Bound
FCWL
2003 Shelter
2004 Sense
British Heart Foundation
2005 Help the Hospices
2006 The Stroke Association
Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust
2007 WellChild
2008 Heart UK
Spinal Injuries Association
2009 The Children's Trust
2010 CLIC Sargent
2011 Oxfam
2012 Team PB the Prostate Cancer Charity Breast Cancer Care
2013 YouthNet and Age UK
2014 Anthony Nolan
2015 Cancer Research UK
2016 NSPCC
2017 The Heads Together Campaign