About forty years ago, I participated in my first fundraising walk. I can’t remember which organization it was for, but I do remember getting the sponsorship form and going around my neighborhood and getting people to agree to donate a certain amount of money for each mile I walked. I think I got a T-shirt for my effort, and I recall the good feeling I had for supporting a good cause. I ended up participating in other walks and rides as I got older, so it was an early start to my desire to eventually raise money for other causes.
However, at that time, walks and rides were relatively new for fundraising events. Since then, it seems that as nonprofits have proliferated, every organization has started having these events, and that has not been a really great thing. It seems that there is a walk or a ride event just about every weekend for every cause under the sun. There are so many that attendance has dropped, so fewer people are raising money for these organizations. According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, results of these events have decreased by ten percent in recent years. They are still raising money, but just not the amounts that they have in their more successful past.
The costs of holding these events have risen in recent years. In a past post I wrote a few years ago, “Walks, Runs, and Rides: There’s Much You Should Know“, I discuss the costs of salaries and benefits for the staff members who put these events together, the swag the organizations provide their participants, the upgraded technology participants use to connect with their supporters, and the fees that many cities now require of the groups holding these events. My eyes were opened during a discussion with city department in Portland, Oregon, that works with nonprofit organizations in the city which hold these types of fundraisers. They are not cheap, let me tell you.
Another issue to consider is that creative organizations have found other ways people can use to gain support for their missions. NPR recently reported that many organizations are turning to other ideas to raise money for their missions. St. Baldrick’s Foundation has raised a great deal of money holding “shave-a-thons” to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and who can forget the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that brought in over $200 million last year?
Personally, I don’t think walks, rides, and runs will completely disappear, but I do think that some groups should consider looking for alternatives that will help them stand out among the crowd. Being different can be an advantage when it comes to fundraising, but being the same as everyone else may not.
It’s a matter of supply and demand. With the vast growth in the nonprofit sector in recent years, and the number of organizations that duplicate their services and fundraising methods, I believe the financial results of these athletic events will continue to drop. Their excessive numbers are unsustainable. Some organizations will be winners, but unfortunately, others will be losers.