Fundraisers Boost Giving To a More Energetic Level

Swimmer Sean DeFrehn of Germantown looks for creative fundraising opportunities, rather than just writing a check.
Swimmer Sean DeFrehn of Germantown looks for creative fundraising opportunities, rather than just writing a check. (By Naomi Brookner -- The Gazette)
By Patricia M. Murret
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008

Swimming 12.5 miles around Key West, Fla., on June 21, Sean DeFrehn of Germantown saw barracuda, dolphins and coral.

He also raised about $1,500 for the Dwelling Place, a Gaithersburg nonprofit group that provides transitional housing for homeless families.

"I could have easily just taken $1,500 out of my bank account and given it to the Dwelling Place and say that I have given and just be done with it," said the 31-year-old former swim coach and longtime water polo player. "But doing it this way, I was able to raise about the same amount of money and raise awareness for the cause." Athletic endeavors and feats can be "a conversation starter" about the group being supported, said DeFrehn, an investment adviser.

He is among a growing number of people seeking creative ways to give to charitable groups. A common fundraising strategy involves activities incorporating physical exercise or endurance that also put a cause in the spotlight, said Jonathan Aiken, director of media relations for the American Red Cross.

DeFrehn, who is the Dwelling Place's board president, is no stranger to traditional fundraising. He founded Great Names, Great Works, a business group that raises money for local charities, in 2001. Although happy hours and dinners have been successful, he said, he has looked for creative opportunities to raise cash that also will create a buzz and put a personal stamp on giving.

DeFrehn said a fundraising tubing trip for 40 on the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is in the works for next month. And a one-day bicycle ride along the C&O Canal, from Cumberland, Md., to the District, is planned for October. Participants will seek sponsors through word of mouth and e-mail.

"This is a fairly new thing for us, and I think it reflects the world," said Miriam Gandell, executive director of the Dwelling Place. "People nowadays are trying to both write a check but spur others to do something."

A case in point is the Running for Others campaign begun in January by Mark Young, 41, of Germantown. He will run 12 marathons in 12 months to raise funds for and awareness of the Dwelling Place, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Germantown HELP, which provides food and emergency supplies to the needy.

Young started Jan. 13 at the Disney World Marathon in Orlando and has since hit races in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the District, Frederick, Cleveland and Coudersport, Pa. His last scheduled marathon is Jan. 11, 364 days after his first, also at Disney World.

Young, a member of Cedarbrook Community Church in Clarksburg, said he sees completing the races as faith in action, taking what he calls a "me-oriented sport" and turning the focus outward, compelling others to act.

"I thought about doing it just for the heck of it, and thought: 'Well that will get old real fast,' " said Young, who had previously run 32 marathons. "If I can do this, it's sort of like: 'What can you do?' ' he said. "Average people motivated can do big things."

Young, a facilities manager for a D.C. law firm, has raised $2,500 through his Web site,, where he tracks his progress on a blog and corresponds with the curious.

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