Cardio or Charity? Maine Road Race Raises Eyebrows

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August 7, 2016; Portland Press Herald

Maine’s largest charity road race is devoting an ever-lower proportion of its profits to charities. Is that a problem? The Portland Press Herald decided to put that to local readers by making the group’s expenses transparent and by pointing out that, although the race is bringing in three times what it did when it first started, it has never increased the amount devoted to charity. Every year, $30,000 is given to a different Maine-based youth organization, but this is a donation made by the TD Bank Charitable Foundation—not out of proceeds from the race. Yet the stated mission of TD Beach to Beacon 10K is to support “a different Maine charity each year by providing a $30,000 donation from the TD Charitable Foundation.” 

Race president Mike Stone, perhaps knowing where all these questions were going said, “Charitable support has always been an important part of the race, but it’s really the secondary goal of the event. Our primary mission is to put on a world-class road race.”

Road races held by nonprofits are not required to give to charity, but many do. For comparison, the Portland Press Herald cited figures from other comparable races in the New England region. In 2014, the Maine Track Club, which holds the Maine Marathon and other races, gave 24 percent of its revenue to charity. Also that year, the Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts donated 18.4 percent of its revenue to charitable organizations.

TD Beach to Beacon 10K gave less than four percent of its revenue to charity in 2014, and that figure includes the annual $30,000 gift from TD Bank, putting the total dollar amount given to charity that year at $35,462. But the amount of money given to charity by TD Beach to Beacon 10K itself—$5,462—was a negligible 0.59 percent of its total revenues of $926,967.

Yes, that could raise some eyebrows.

One element of the race that does not figure directly into the organization’s own finances is its practice of allowing the purchase of up to 25 running bibs to past recipients of the $30,000 grant. These organizations can then fundraise on their own in subsequent races, which can bring in, according to one of these nonprofits, $20,000 per year.

The race may need to look more closely at its financial model to bring it into the charitable realm of its peers. It also probably needs to do a much better job of describing itself, its mission, and its benefits to charity than race director Dave McGillivray did in a statement in defense of their status quo: “It shouldn’t always be about the money. It’s goodwill.”

No, it’s basically about the money.—Vanessa Wu and Ruth McCambridge