Charities Gain Traction in Marathons: New York Times

Running for charity has been a common way to enter major marathons for decades — especially in London, where nearly 80 percent of the field of 36,550 ran for charities in 2010, raising $81 million. It is a fairly new phenomenon, however, in New York. New York’s field of charity teams hit 86 in 2010, up from 14 in 2006, when New York started its program. In addition, 104 community charity teams from the New York area will each have 5 to 10 entries.

The New York Road Runners, the nonprofit organization that operates the race, estimated that $26.2 million would be raised, about $2 million more than last year’s total and $15 million more than in 2006.

Yet race officials are trying to balance the rapid growth of the program — which not only benefits the charities, but the Road Runners, too — with its possible pitfalls. New York’s symbiotic financial model reveals the delicate dance of business and philanthropy.

The Road Runners’ minimum fund-raising requirement is $2,500 per runner, which individual charities can set higher. Some may pay the money out of their own pockets just for the privilege of running in the race. In exchange for a high-profile fund-raising platform, the charities pay nonrefundable upfront fees that range from $525 to $950 per entry, depending on perks like advertising, and tents and buses on race day. Such an arrangement brings more than $3.8 million to the Road Runners. Wittenberg said that pays for administration costs, transportation, insurance, medical staff and other race-day items for the marathon runners, in addition to supporting the 58 races and fitness initiatives the organization offers year-round.

Many teams sell out their slots, but this year some did not.

Published in The New York Times on October 21, 2010