Amateur runners raise millions for a variety of causes
The real winners of the 2016 New York City marathon didn’t run a single mile.
They were the 62,850 people, many homeless, who will get free meals from City Harvest this year, thanks to the more than $110,000 raised by a group of 25 marathoners. Or the thousands suffering from type 1 diabetes who may see breakthrough research from the $300,000 raised through JDRF’s 72 marathoners. And the pancreatic cancer patients who may get treatment or other help, thanks in part to the nearly $300,000 Project Purple’s 74 runners helped raise. This year, New York City marathoners raised roughly $20 million for 340 charities, making it one of the most charitable marathons in the nation.
While it’s difficult to ballpark how much runners raise for charity each year, Crowdrise, the world’s largest fundraising site for charities, says that roughly half of the funds raised on its site since its inception came from runners. Amateur runners now raise more for charity than amateur participants in any other sport, the company estimates.
In the past few years, runners have collected more money for charity than ever, thanks in part to the growing number of runners — up more than 50% over the last decade, according to the National Sporting Goods Association — and the large number of running events with a charitable component. “Almost every weekend in any city, you’ll see 10 to 12 different races, and every one has a charity component,” says LIVESTRONG Foundation President Greg Lee. From 2015 – 2016, his organization saw a roughly 6% uptick in people running for charity; on average, each participant gets seven to nine donations at an average of $75 a pop, he says.
The popularity of aligning a cause with one’s identity has also led to the growth, says Robert Wolfe, CEO of CrowdRise. He explains that he’s seen giving back “flipped from doing it once a year as a private act that is almost tactless to discuss to something that is now part of your life.”
For many runners, the charity component is as much a part of the high as the running itself. “I don’t recruit runners. I recruit rare community advocates,” says Phil Maderia, founder of the Running for Rare team, which raises money for cures for rare diseases. “Runners have a partner in the rare community assigned to them and it’s not a symbolic kind of thing. The deal is if you want to join the team, you are willing to put yourself out there and get to know them personally, talk to them on the phone, or meet in person.”
Raising all that money takes as much work as training for the race itself. “I send out literally thousands of emails, and every one of them is customized to the person receiving it,” says serial marathoner Drew Swiss, who has raised more than $600,000 over the past nine years. “Persistence is the single word I use.”
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