Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The demand for charity

Today I read about how there are 3,000 fewer charity runners in this year's New York City Marathon, with many charity race bibs that will end up going unused.

Given the enormous demand out there for a New York City Marathon bib, I was surprised to hear this. I'm not sure what the currents odds are to obtain an entry via the registration lottery. According to this article there were over 140,000 applicants for approximately 40,000 spots in 2012. However, I've heard the odds were as low as 1 in 11 based on an individual's category. Either way, wow.

As a child, I remember watching lotto drawings take place during the evening news. To this day I am strangely amused by the fact that the drawing results are always audited by some local accounting firm.

Given how much running and marathoning have risen in popularity in recent years, it is definitely getting tougher and tougher to enter the major races.

I recall that not too long ago it was possible to register for the Chicago Marathon just a few weeks away from race day. Now, people are clamoring to sign up the moment registration opens, and Chicago sells out more and more quickly every year. After last year's registration debacle, it seems likely that Chicago will go to a lotto registration system in the near future.

I think it is challenging to commit to a marathon or any major race so far in advance. Who knows where things may be with training, injury, or life in general six or more months from now?

These days, running for charity might become the only option for gaining entry into certain races. Why not give yourself more registration flexibility while helping to benefit a good cause, right? It seems to be getting more and more prevalent every year.

As demand increases, though, it seems that charity options also increase. Every year I see more and more charities offering marathon bib opportunities. Some of them support causes that I've never heard of, which would make it tougher for me to be vested in the cause.

Personally, I am intimidated by the thought of having to fundraise, period. I am not comfortable asking people to donate. This discomfort has roots going back to my childhood. I hated those times when I had to go door-to-door to sell candy. I also hated when I had to set up shop outside the local grocery store to sell to passersby.

From the other side, I have certainly my fair share of bad experiences in general with overzealous salespeople who won't take no for an answer. I've been put on the spot and in awkward situations by others asking me to donate.

To be clear - I do not have issue with folks that are laidback about spreading the word on their fundraising. And I obviously have no issue buying fundraising products that I truly enjoy, e.g.:

I will buy Girl Scout cookies anyday.
Yummy yummy.

All in all, what it comes down to is that I just don't like being pressured when it comes to fundraising. And I think there is a very fine line between pressure versus influence.

Despite my discomfort with fundraising, out of curiousity I have actually looked into marathon fundraising requirements for causes that mean a lot to me. Many times the amounts are not published. But from what I've seen, it looks like fundraising minimums for the Chicago Marathon start around $500 pre-close, but rise for post-close entries.

If I ever did take the marathon fundraising plunge, the $500 range is actually an amount I'd be able to live with. Worst case scenario, I would fund the entire amount myself to help a favorite cause. However, I've heard of some fundraising minimums for organizations starting as high as $3,000, especially for races like Boston and New York. That seems like a lot.

I have friends who have fundraised by way of things like personal bake sales. You'd have to do some industrial-sized cookie-making to get to $3,000.

It is really a shame that so many NYCM charity race bibs will go unused. But, I can't imagine I am the only person who is intimidated by fundraising, and who also feels inundated by so many charities vying for me to join their team.

Ideally those unused NYCM bibs would somehow be repurposed to any of the thousands of people who entered the registration lottery but didn't get in. I realize, of course, that in many ways this is impractical and is not necessarily fair. Plus, this year's NYCM is probably an outlyer given what happened with Hurricane Sandy last year. But, it will be interesting to see what the trend is for charity runners further down the line, both for the NYCM and in general.

Those of you who have run for charity, what was your experience and would you do it again? If you haven't run for charity, what are your thoughts on doing so?


  1. I saw that article, too. The minimums in NYC are $2500 which is a big chunk of change! I ran for Team in Training in 1996 and for Team for Kids in 2005. I did not mind fundraising for those and for things like Cycle for Survival and Alexandra's Playground (NYC Half) because I believe in the causes. I have found that I like hosting raffles on my blog for charity and/or to donate the money myself (or a combo). I also think holding events to defray the costs is a good way to fundraise.

    Some races have lower cost post-close options. Houston has "hero numbers" for $350 plus race cost. They should have done the same for NYC spots. People could give that to the charitable organization of their choice.

    So - I think it is fine to do charity race entries, but I think the minimums should be lower (many people raise way more) and that it should be optional. I would only do causes that I really believe in - not just any cause to get in...

    1. Erica - I didn't know that you've run for so many different charities in the past! I would be curious to hear about the comparisons across the various charities you've worked with - e.g. did some provide better support than others, or were some causes noticeably more of a draw to your fundraising audience than others?

      A hero marathon for $350 plus race cost for the Houston Marathon is VERY reasonable. I agree, had they done something like that for NYC, those extra bibs would have been gone in a heartbeat!

      Very much agree that fundraising minimums should be lower, and more options would definitely be better. I imagine fundraising takes a lot of time and effort, so I would also only choose to raise funds for a cause that I believe in. It's amazing how many obscure causes are out there - I have to imagine that those have an especially tough time finding supporters!

  2. I run for charity pretty often and I love being able to help a cause so near and dear to my heart but I would never put money or effort into something I didn't believe in so wholeheartedly.
    Fundraising doesn't bother me any more, by now most friends and family know "that time of year" and I usually meet my goals ahead of schedule (so they can be stretched) but I can certainly understand how intimidating it can be!
    We do a 50k hike with a minimum of $2,500, a run (5k-26.2) with a minimum of $100, cycle events with $165, and walks without minimums so it all depends on the nature of the beast. I don't do all of those events but I am active with the NPO.
    I'm curious as to if the bibs are released by a certain time to make maximum profits. I think some races do that.

    1. I very much agree that I would never fundraise for a cause just to get a race bib. I imagine it takes a lot of time and effort to fundraise, so it would be difficult to get motivated to do so for a cause I don't fully believe in. Good for you for being such a great fundraiser and you are very blessed to be able to meet and stretch your goals with such ease! Do you have any particular cause that you always run for, or do you rotate different causes?

      I think you bring up a great point, too, about being active with the NPO as a means to support one. Support for an NPO comes in all different ways, e.g. time, word-of-mouth, etc. It is definitely not always about fundraising!

  3. The whole running for charity thing is so tough!! I totally appreciate the concept behind it... but...

    I’m totally not going to be popular for saying this, I know it. I’m just going to say it anyway.

    Let's tweak the situation a little. I know there are some flaws in this logic, but just play along.

    Say I sign up to do Habitat for Humanity post Katrina. In order to serve in Habitat, I have to fund some of the building materials, so I need to pay $200 to participate. No problem, I have $500 in fun money open right now. Let’s do this, right?! I sign up and pay the fees. (Yes, I am making this scenario up, roll with me).

    Then, since I only have to do the Habitat work for 4-5 hours on one day, I decide to book my flight and hotel for a long weekend so I can do some touristy stuff and go shopping while I'm there. May as well make a trip of it!

    Unfortunately, I find out that my weekend away is going to cost me $500 for airfare and hotel. Like I said, I only have $500 in fun money open right now, and have already paid the $200 fee to Habitat. Now it looks like I can’t afford to go after all...

    If I told you what I was planning, and asked you to help me pay for my plane ticket and hotel, would you be inclined to “donate” money to me?

    And if I took the same type of trip every year, would you “donate” to me each time? Even if it was in the same or different location?

    What I end up seeing happening in the racing circuit is this: the same people, year after year, chose to do the same event (or, if not the same event, another similar event that also requires charitable funding). Each year they keep asking for money. And often, it’s in combination with them announcing they are taking some sort of mini vacation along with the race.

    Although I know I shouldn't view it this way, after a while, it starts to feel like they are expecting me to put money towards their personal race & travel hobbies.

    Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that they are trying to do a good deed by raising money for charity. But if I wanted to go to New York or San Francisco or Miami to do a race each year, I certainly wouldn't tell everyone that I was taking a mini vacation that required plane tickets and hotel, and then turn around and ask them to fund the charity that is associated with my trip.

    When my husband did the MS150 bike ride a few years back, he decided he wanted to do it because it sounded fun. So we budgeted for it, and worked it out so as to afford the registration fee and the $300+/- charitable fundraising requirement ourselves. (FYI, he hasn’t repeated the event because he felt the ride wasn’t worth the cost, and the cause isn’t personally close enough to him to warrant going around asking others for money to offset his charitable dues.)

    I feel at some point, a person has to decide if the event they are participating in – and the charity it supports – is something they REALLY feel strongly about. And they have to decide if it’s something they are willing to ask people to contribute to whether they are running a race or not. If they weren’t inclined to fundraise without the race attached to it, that should indicate something to them.

    As for the open bibs in NY… think of all the charity dollars they could have by allowing people to purchase the bib at face value. I heard the mid-tier fee for a bib there this year was $255. Take that times 3,000 open bibs… $765,000.

    1. Shinianen, you bring up a bevvy of FANTASTIC points. Without getting into too much detail, I've seen how some nonprofit orgs spend their donated funds foolishly, or just plan flat-out squander their donations. Heck, we don't even need to look at nonprofits for that - look at all the stories we hear about governmental entities mishandling tax money, etc. There is a LOT of trust that is inherent in fundraising. When I donate to a cause that I believe in, I can only hope that my donations are being put to good use... but I've heard horror stories about how in some cases, only some ridiculously small percentage of donated funds actually goes towards the cause. A lot of times, most of it goes for administrative costs, i.e. all those darned letters that you get in the mail every month asking for more donations. Likewise, I have seen folks raise money based on selling things like homemade cookies, but how do you know for sure that they aren't pocketing some of the profit in between? It's a very sticky situation.

      In any event - I COMPLETELY agree with you on gauging whether a charity is something that you'd be willing to ask people to contribute to regardless of the race involved. Sadly, I think it's tough for some people to draw that line, though, you know?

      Good for you and your husband for taking the initiative with the MS150 bike ride! I am glad that you got to experience it, and that you now know how you feel about the effort involved on a go-forward basis.

      Oh my gosh, $765,000 for those unused bibs. Wow. Just wow.

    2. I know. Even more if they made the charitable goal attainable for someone like me to pay out of pocket. Imagine if the fee was $500 or even $750???

    3. Totally. For the right cause I would barely hesitate to pay $500 out of pocket!

      It is unbelievable to think about how much money is involved with these enormous races. I would love to see the full budget for one of the World Marathon Majors!

  4. I ran Chicago on the Lupus Charity team in 2010 in honor of our neighbor and babysitter who had Lupus. It was a great experience and I had no problem raising $$$$. In hindsight, I wish I'd been more strategic and ran NYCM on a charity team instead of rot in the lottery for 3 years. I am very sensitive to asking people for money and I hesitate to do so again.

    1. Marcia - that is awesome that you ran on behalf of your neighbor/babysitter. I think that these causes are most personal when they relate to family members or friends personally affected by the cause. It must have been so touching for both you and your neighbor/babysitter on marathon day! I can only imagine what a great experience that must have been.

      You also bring up a great point about asking folks for money on a repeat basis. There is definitely some strategy involved in that, too. I think family and close friends would be more understanding of being asked year after year, but certain acquaintances might be more of just once, say, every few years. I definitely get annoyed when certain charities are too aggressive about asking me to donate, or ask too frequently. My husband once donated to an organization late in the year, then got a phone call like a week later asking for another donation "because it is never too early to start donating for next year." Unbelievable!

  5. I've obviously never run a marathon for charity, but have run and fundraised for the Lung Run the past 2 years in support of my brother's girlfriend who continues to fight lung cancer. It's really hard and frustrating at times, but on the other side of the coin, because it's a cause that's so very important to me, seeing the amount of support I got from friends, family and the local running community was just amazing and overwhelming. I wish that this cause never became a blip on my radar, but now that it is, I will absolutely fundraise in support of it in the future.

    But I think there's a difference between runs like the Lung Run, where there is NO fundraising requirement and a majority of even race entry fees actually go to charity, and something like a charity bib in a marathon, where many people fundraise in exchange for a bib in a sold-out race. Fundraising is hard enough when it's something you really believe in, I can't imagine doing it for a cause that's not as important to me. I would feel weird asking for money in that case.

    1. Anne - I was going to mention to you that I thought your method of raising funds for the Lung Run was perfect. You shared your story and why this cause was important to you, you didn't go overboard publicizing it, and you hosted a great event for it. No pressure, just raising awareness. If only everyone could fundraise the way you did!

      I am really, really, really glad to hear that the Lung Run had no fundraising requirement and that most of the fees went directly to the cause. That is the true essence of what fundraising should be all about! And it must have been so meaningful for you to have done all that you did. Huge congrats for all of your hard work and efforts!!!

    2. Thanks, Emily! You know, it's an especially hard cause because when most people hear "lung cancer," they think that people who get it MUST have smoked, and obviously brought it upon themselves. More and more non-smokers are being diagnosed with it, and it sucks that there's such a horrible stigma attached. Actually, it sucks that anyone can say that any person "deserves" cancer or brought it on themselves. November is Lung Cancer Awareness month (but sadly you won't see white ribbons replacing all the pink ribbon stuff from October), so I may post a little more about it.

      But I agree, hosting a fun event was totally the way to go! It did bring some awareness to an important cause, but also made it really easy to collect donations because people feel like they're getting something in return, you know? Even if it was just a fun run and a BBQ (many of which we do just host for free!). So I'll definitely be doing that again next year!

    3. The stigma of smoking always being the cause for lung cancer is horrible. It is very, very sad that more and more non-smokers are being diagnosed with it, too. It is very insensitive for anyone to ever say that someone "deserves" cancer. That is why what you did is so valuable - because it helps raise awareness that things are NOT always so black and white, you know? It's the personal stories that bring more meaning to these special causes - and many of the stories I have heard have brought tears to my eyes. Please do post more about Lung Cancer Awareness month!

      Your event was a BLAST. Us CRBs and WRCEs seriously don't get to hang out enough - so any opportunity to get together is something I tremendously look forward to! I can't wait to do it again next year! And thanks for being so active in organizing all of these events for all of us!

    4. Definitely! I hope you're still planning to come to our Revolution run next month :)

    5. I will be there for the run and brunch for sure! Unfortunately I have other stuff going on in the afternoon, though, so I will probably have to head out after brunch. But I am super excited for the run-brunch portion of the shindig!!!

  6. There was a woman in my training group when I was gearing up for Big D who was a Boston charity runner. She made it sound like raising the money was no big deal, but I also got the impression that she worked a high powered job. I think it's easier to get the money if you are rubbing elbows with fat cats, know what I mean? I have a hard time asking for money even for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which I feel incredibly passionate about. I don't know that I could do it for a race. If it was a price that I could stomach covering myself though, I'd do it.

    1. Amy, I couldn't agree with you more that fundraising seems like it would be a lot easier if you have the right connections. I am always shocked when I hear about how much some folks pay for things like fundraising gala tickets and silent auctions. It's like a whole other world!

      I think that you've done a terrific job fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Similar to what I was telling Anne above, you shared your story and why the cause was important to you, and you didn't go overboard publicizing it. I thought you had the perfect mix of just raising awareness without pressure. It must have meant so much to you and your family to do what you did. Be very, very proud of yourself for all of your hard work and efforts!

  7. I've ran the Chicago Marathon on behalf of the American Cancer Society and the Y-Me Breast Cancer Organization. Oh, and I've done the Avon 3-Day Walk. I've had to raise money for all of them. I remember people being very generous with their donations but then times got rough and then they weren't so generous. Of course I understood and appreciated every dollar I got. I don't know if now I would run for a charity. I don't mean it in a bad way because they are so many good ones but now I have a hard time asking people for money.

    1. Oh wow! I didn't realize that you've done so much fundraising for races in the past. I'd like to hear more about your experience with the fundraising and what kind of support you got from the organizations themselves on the process. And I have a very, VERY hard time asking people for money, so I completely understand and appreciate those that do donate!