When Charity Walks Attack

Hide your kids! Run for the hills! Another charity walk is coming through your streets!

Charity walks, runs and rides are nothing new; in fact, the nation’s first walk took place more than 40 years ago. Yet, the latest trend in charity walks is disparaging them.

This month alone, op-eds in The Boston Globe and The New York Times have complained about the nuisance and ineffectiveness of charity walks and their run and ride counterparts. They argue that the funds raised are diminished by the high costs of security, permits and other event necessities. Although eight percent of proceeds do go to securing permits and security, the top 30 “thon” fundraising programs still generated over $1.62 billion in gross revenue in 2009, according to the Run Walk Ride Foundation. Cynics also argue that the time participants dedicate could be more effectively used supporting charities in other ways, say helping to build a home or clean up a beach. However, walks tap into new groups of people who wouldn’t otherwise support the cause, friends and family support their loved ones (not the cause) and many participants join both for the cause and for other, more personal or selfish reasons. Neither of these groups would be effectively reached through traditional donation or volunteerism opportunities.

Despite the growing criticism, there’s more than one reason walks have been going strong since 1969:

• They’re social – they bring together diverse participants, foster a sense of community, shared stories and a “we’re all in this together” feeling.
• They demand attention – they put charities on public display, and the minor disruption they cause is intentional; it’s hard to ignore a group of 50,000 people marching together for a cause.
• They mobilize en-masse – most organizations could never manage or maximize the volume and energy of people who turn out for walks, runs and rides through traditional volunteer opportunities alone.
• They fulfill and inspire – most people who participate in these events are seeking to help the cause, but also to achieve a personal accomplishment as well, whether completing a marathon, biking hundreds of miles or walking further than they’ve walked before.

Do you think charity runs, walks and rides still have a place in contemporary fundraising?

 

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