Charity Athletics: ROI Should be Measured Long Term

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April 9, 2013; USA Today

Project Bread’s 45th Annual Walk for Hunger typically raises about $3.5 million and draws 40,000 participants. According to director Ryan Lee, “raising that money is important. The other part is the visibility: it’s a social justice movement.”

According to a study from the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, however, charity races bring in only $3.20 for every dollar spent. Compare that to telephone solicitations: $12 raised per dollar spent. How about capital campaigns? Each dollar spent in one of those garners $20 in return.

And as far as visibility is concerned, Ken Stern, author of With Charity for All and former CEO of NPR, told USA Today that although many charities see “fun runs” and walks as important ways to connect with donors and generate interest for their cause, many participants in these races barely know what causes they’re supporting.

The Boston Business Journal provides a more optimistic view with a story and slideshow focused on 13 charity-driven runners in Monday’s Boston Marathon. Of about 26,000 entrants, some 6,000 run the Boston Marathon for various charities. Many of the 13 spotlighted are raising funds as a way to give back to a nonprofit that has directly impacted their life, such as one dedicated to curing an illness. Several runners mentioned being inspired by the work of a specific nonprofit, and wanted to combine the challenge of the marathon with the challenge of raising money. Measuring the success of the event based just on an event’s direct costs leads to ignoring these other long-term benefits.—Jeanne Allen