Pelotonia 2012,” John M. Cropper

July 7, 2020; Forbes

Marathons are still on! The Omaha Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, and Seattle Marathon are still proceeding business as usual with their race schedule for this fall.

They are the anomalies.

Most marathons, joining festivals, concerts, and other large events, have been shelved, rescheduled, or re-planned to take place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Safety is organizers’ number one priority—the safety of volunteers, the safety of the spectators, and the safety of the runners.

For example, Doug Ulman, the CEO of Pelotonia, an Ohio-based cancer charity that traditionally holds a three-day bike race, shared with Columbus Business First that given the environment we are all living in, the organization did not want to execute a mass gathering that would require pulling frontline and health professionals from the current battle against the pandemic.

Due to cancellations like these, many nonprofit organizations have been hit hard, since  these marathons served as a major source of funding. Gilda’s Club of Chicago, for example, would have received over $130,000 through donations generated by 65 runners in the Chicago Marathon this year. Brad Most, spokesperson for the organization, shared with WBBM News Radio that the marathon was also an opportunity for the organization to receive more recognition.

South Suburban Humane Society faces a similar issue. This was going to be the fifth year the organization would benefit from funds raised by the runners. CEO Emily Klehm tells WBBM that 10 runners generated nearly $20,000 for the organization last year.

As nonprofit organizations are challenged to fill the gaps of lost funds from the marathons, fundraisers are getting creative and thinking of innovative approaches.

  • Participation Flexibility. Participants are encouraged to walk, swim, jump, run, dance—however they want to “run” their own race this year. Pelotonia, for example, is asking participants to take part in “My Pelotonia,” and engage in personal challenges at home and throughout the community. The organization also developed a platform where participants could share their plans/goals. Travis Diehl shared on the platform, “My Pelotonia is 1) to ride from Powell, OH to Perrysburg, OH with the friend who got me into cycling and 2) to run a 100-mile trail race in the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky.”
  • Re-plan and Expand. In addition to giving flexibility on participation, some organizations are reaping the benefits of less physical constraints by going virtual. With the impact of the virus, organizers have gone virtual and have expanded the number of participants along with the timeline. The 27th annual Habitat 500, a 500-mile bicycle ride, has raised more than $300,000 each year for Minnesota chapters to use for their affordable housing projects. This year, they are welcoming more participants and expanding the event from a nine-day event to two months.
  • Collaboration. With power in numbers, organizations are realizing the benefits of working together to fulfill their clients’ growing needs during the pandemic. Two organizations in Baton Rouge, Louisiana are collaborating in hopes of alleviating the stress that single mothers are facing with caring for a family during the pandemic. By donating $25, the public is able to help provide a box of fresh produce, feeding a family of four for one week.
  • Experiment—Try Something New. Past dreams are coming to life, as ideas that once have remained thoughts now have to now become reality. One such comes from the Reston Community Players in Virginia, which teamed up with community theaters in the DC metro region to produce a first-of-its-kind telethon, Community Theatre Thrives! Jolene Vettese, president of the Players, shares in a release, “We thought a livestreamed telethon would be a wonderful way to be able to come together virtually, share the talent of the region and help ensure that community theatre continues to thrive in the capital region for years to come. We need theatre in our communities, and right now, community theatre needs us.”

Before cancelling events, nonprofits are considering whether they can turn their fundraisers into something virtual or what resources they have to bring in additional funds. During this time, nonprofits are getting creative to reach and engage donors and raise income when we can’t physically be in the same space.—Deidre Fraser