This great blog by Wendy Bumgardner examines just what an expensive proposition a Walkathon is… and asked if the money is getting to the finish line.

At our goal is to help charities raise more money and at the same time help people get fit. I would love to chat with Wendy sometime to learn more about her mission!!!

Charity Walk Backlash?

Are charity walks and runs worth they money put into them? Smart Money has a feature article on the history and evolution of charity walks, runs, rides and extreme sports. They bring up many debating points and feature one critic who staged an anti-walk “Walk to Prevent Walking.” Smart Money: Are Charity Walks and Races Worth the Effort?

I’ve walked and volunteered for several large charity walks, including the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk (when hosted by Pallotta TeamWorks) and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Both of those involve raising thousands of dollars in order to be allowed to participate, plus have a challenging walking distance to complete each day. Similarly, I’m signed up for the For A Cause France 2011 walk/ride and must both fundraise and train to complete a half marathon a day for five days.

Do charity walks bring in new money?
What was the net effect? Were my sponsors just paying to send me on a walking vacation? Each time I walked I was able to raise the minimum from friends and relatives, and in addition I chipped in what the organizers said was the overhead cost to participate. Wouldn’t that same money have gone to breast cancer charities without me asking? I think not. I think that these events energize their participants as fundraisers to generate money that wouldn’t come through other means.

Would I have raised $3000 per year for breast cancer charities without signing up for a walk? In my case, no. I never did before. And I’ve never fundraised except when required to participate. For example, I’ve been on relay teams where fundraising was suggested for a designated charity, but not required, so I didn’t fundraise (nor did other team members.) It takes time, effort, and stepping out of your comfort zone to ask people for money. It’s not something I do unless I have vowed to do it for a specific event. I think the same is true for most participants. They are not fundraisers apart from the events.

Do the charities really get enough income from these walks to justify the effort? That is a budgetary decision each charity makes each year. If they weren’t worth the effort, charities would move on to different methods of fundraising. The free market decides whether they are worth the effort. Any successful charity stops doing things that don’t work.

Splitting the market
I agree that the market is glutted with 5K/10K charity walks and runs in many cities. Often there are several to choose from on prime weekends, all competing for routes, racers and donations. But if competition is really so fierce, smart charities will look for better ways to raise funds.

What justifies the overhead costs?
The overhead costs don’t go into a black hole. Much of it pumps up the economy of the locale where the event is held. Overhead costs for these events include food, beverages, support vehicle rentals, and fees to local governments to rent parks, close streets and control traffic. That helps support the economy of the city where they are held. Participants often travel, at their own expense or included in the fundraising minimum, and that is also money into the economy for hotel nights, restaurant meals, and more. In boom times maybe this all seemed wasteful, but in a recession that is money those local communities sorely need and seek out.

Energizing participants to walk
But what sucked me into these events back in 2001 was the incredibly energy they generate in turning people into walkers. Those joining in are often new to fitness walking. They have hundreds of questions about shoes, blisters, walking clothing, training, energy snacks and sports drinks. Signing up for one of these events is a great way to motivate yourself to start a walking fitness program and stick with it.

My France walk is less than three months away. I finished my first half marathon of the season last weekend and I’m doing another one on July 4. I am far more serious about my distance training this year with that challenge looming in September than I was last year without it. Multi-day walk training schedule

The cause is worth the effort
I myself questioned before signing up whether it was worth it from the charity perspective. I’ll be funding the event overhead as my own donation. Meanwhile, I’ll be bringing in at least $2500 for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight breast cancer. That’s a good thing. Since making the decision, one of my colleagues was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of the research done over the past 15 years, she has a better chance of being a long term survivor.

Many charities and participants say that raising awareness for their cause is a big benefit of hosting a big, visible event. There are many opportunities for press interviews about the charity and the cause. People see a sea of pink shirts walking and they may be more inclined to do breast self exams and get a mammogram. While pink ribbon-labeled products seem to be everywhere, that wasn’t the case before these charity walks ramped up. Other diseases and causes hope to break into that same level of awareness.

What do you think?