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June 06, 2012

Is Running a Race for Charity for You?

Written by Dena Evans

ACS_croppedParticipating in a race for a personal cause or organized charitable organization has become an extremely popular way to experience race day.  Some of the largest marathons can boast of millions of dollars raised per year for great causes in this manner. Charities in almost every segment of the non-profit world have found their way into the action, offering race numbers for a variety of challenging endurance events.

If you are an experienced racer looking to try your next goal race with this additional motivation, or if you are seeking your first long endurance effort and wonder if the charitable piece would help you get to the finish line, here are a few things to consider when making the commitment.

Research your beneficiary

Unless you are already familiar with the organization you are considering, take a bit of time to make sure you are working to help a charity that is actually doing the good things you hope to assist with your fundraising efforts. There may be multiple organizations working toward solutions for a problem about which you are passionate, but not all may be equal in their effectiveness.

Websites like CharityNavigator.com advise the public about the fundamentals of non-profit organizations – how much is spent on administration vs. programs, and other key figures.  More often than not, everything is completely fine.   However, when pushing yourself to the limit and fundraising through your friends and family, full confidence in the benefitting organization and individuals can be a valuable asset.

Consider the effectiveness of your fundraising toward the cause

Most organizations able to offer bib numbers to the big races have a minimum donation to be raised, usually $2500 to $4000 for the largest marathons.  In many cases (but not all), $250-$500 of these dollars are paid to the race as a charge to have access to non-lottery or non-time qualified bibs in popular events.  In addition to travel costs and other expenditures, there may be significant money spent to raise your total by running the race.  Oftentimes, your circle is inspired by your efforts in a way they might not be if asking for a donation to another kind of fundraiser.  You may also never have the same motivation to raise funds that you have when attacking a physical challenge.  Either way, it is always helpful to enter into the process with your eyes open, particularly when you are highly motivated on a personal level toward your cause, regardless of the vehicle through which you are trying to raise money.

Reflect on the racing opportunity itself

Although the growth in field size and the expansion of the charitable running population has been a topic of some debate within the constituent communities of the largest and most historic races, the fact remains that running for charity can be a singular opportunity to get a crack at a race that would otherwise be fenced off.  Miss the lottery spots in New York?  Have a tough time qualifying for Boston?  Running for a cause provides a new way to still take part in some of the greatest footraces.  For some, the donation becomes a pure investment in the chance for that experience.  For others, they may supplement their fundraising efforts with a sizable personal donation to put them over the fundraising requirement if they haven’t left enough time to rally the funds.  For a special, “bucket list” race, this choice may be a no-brainer, but for others, consideration of the scarcity of the opportunity might be worthwhile before committing to raising a hefty sum in minimal time.

What is there beyond the bib?

For some athletes, a race number is all they need or want from the charitable organization.  However, for many others, the chance to meet with fellow fundraisers before or after the race, special race-day transportation opportunities, or a larger community to be inspired by while training can be huge assets to the effort.  Does the local chapter of your organization have a weekly training run you can integrate into your runcoach schedule?  Is there a pre- or post-race reception to share experiences and battle stories with fellow team members?  Is there special race gear you can wear for solidarity while out on the course?  Many of these small things help to forge relationships that last beyond the race experience, and can help keep you on track as the runs get longer and more challenging.   If you know that these types of things might make a difference for you, check into their availability before making a commitment.

Many races, large and small, designate charitable beneficiaries for their overall proceeds, so even a regular paid bib number can make a difference to someone in need.  However, running for charity can be a memorable and often life-changing opportunity when you match personal passion and effort with effective advocacy and implementation from the organization.  Make sure your chosen race and cause aligns well with your passion, and let the chance to “run for a reason” propel you to a memorable race day.

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