A charity runner in a chicken mask being given a foot rub by another charity runner


After months of training and countless hours thinking about running, I completed my first marathon in London this year. It was an incredible experience, albeit painful, and despite the weather was supported by thousands lining the course to cheer everyone on.

For those looking to give more to charity, running a marathon is a popular choice.  Having experienced it I now understand why: it’s not only fundraising for a cause that’s important to you but also incredible personal development. Over my year of training, I developed skills in goal setting, building resilience, collaboration, and improved my personal wellbeing. Once I’d passed the finish line (in three hours and 35 minutes!) all those hours of training and pain were forgotten, and I instantly wanted to sign up for next year.

Once the adrenaline had worn off and I was back at work, I was struck by how similar my experience of running the marathon was to the experience of the skilled volunteers, our Pilotlighters, who coach and mentor charity leaders via our Pilotlight 360 programme. Let me explain what I mean:

1. Setting goals and planning 

Just as training for a marathon requires setting clear goals and creating a training plan, being a Pilotlighter demands a strategic approach. The ability to break down objectives into actionable steps becomes crucial when identifying milestones for a charity. Goal setting and planning provide the roadmap for success.

2. Commitment and discipline 

Running a marathon demands commitment and discipline to stick to a training schedule, even on days when you’re lacking motivation. Being a Pilotlighter requires a similar level of dedication. By committing to a charity project on Pilotlight 360 and allocating time to contribute your expertise, you develop discipline that ensures commitments are fulfilled and your contributions are meaningful.

3. Resilience and perseverance 

Marathons test the limits of physical and mental endurance and pushing through moments of fatigue, discomfort, and self-doubt is a crucial aspect of the training. Skills-based volunteering encounters its own challenges. On many charity projects Pilotlighters will come up against unexpected obstacles and setbacks, requiring resilience and perseverance to work through and overcome these. By modelling these behaviours, they also support the charity leaders they work with to build their resilience too. 

4. Collaboration and Teamwork 

Although running a marathon is an individual journey, there is a huge sense of community on race day amongst both runners and spectators who create a feeling that you’re a part of something bigger. At Pilotlight, collaboration and teamwork are essential: despite each Pilotlighter having their own goals for their involvement (to increase their skills or knowledge of the charity sector), each Pilotlighter is part of a team of four, coaching a charity to maximise its impact for its beneficiaries. Your time and expertise maybe focused on one charity, however your donation supports our work across the country. In 2022 we supported over 150 charities which collectively supported over 8.1 million people. How about that for being a part of something bigger!

5. Continuous learning and improvement 

Marathon training is a journey of continuous learning and improvement through analysing performance and adjusting training plans. Similarly, Pilotlight provides opportunities for personal and career development for individuals. Reflecting on and applying different experiences, helping a charity with the challenges it faces and actively improving your own skills along the way provides a space for continuous development.

6. Celebrate the wins 

Crossing the finish line! All the hard work, time and thought you have given towards reaching that finish line leads to a moment of achievement and recognition of the distance travelled (apologies for the pun) to get to that point. Celebrating the completion of your Pilotlight 360 project -if in person, often with cake- is an important one for our Pilotlighters, as it’s the point of reflection on the journey, and demonstrates the significance of your work as a skills-based volunteer. Pilotlight exists to amplify the impact charities can have. Two years after participating in Pilotlight 360 charities have, on average, increased their reach by 22% and their income by 43%, which in itself is cause for celebration.

As you can see, the parallels between running a marathon and Pilotlight’s skills-based volunteering are undeniable If you’re tying up your running show ready to hit your next training target, remember that skilled-volunteering is another way you can increase the impact of your favourite charity. If you’re looking to share your expertise with charities through Pilotlight get in touch.

Written by
Profile picture for user Grace Ellis
Grace Ellis
Individual Partnerships and Community Manager - Pilotlight