Runners Silhouette

Whether it’s a coworker, family member, or Facebook friend, you probably know someone who has (or maybe you have) run a race for charity.  While marathon majors races such as the New York and Chicago marathons have historically been associated with charities, races for charity are not limited to long-distances races.    The growing popularity of shorter distance races (1 mile, 5K, 10K) has seen the creation of races for all kinds of charities, from those with household name recognition to smaller, local charities or causes.   As these races continue to proliferate, there are a few fundamental questions that a runner may want to consider before signing up.  In this week’s blog, we’ll consider one major question around races for charity: namely, where does the registration money go and who has the obligation to disclose this information?

The goal of this “Midpack Musings” is not to provide runners with what is “right” or “wrong” behavior, but to provide a space to ask questions about ethical issues and behavior in the running community.   First and foremost, we need to ask ourselves if running events have an obligation to be transparent about the percentage of an entry fee that will be donated to charity?  For races that have sponsors or vendors that set up at pre/post race expos, does the race organization have an obligation to be transparent about where the money that is donated or paid here goes as well?

For example, an investigation of the 2007 Seattle Marathon revealed that only 1% of the money raised was donated to charity.1 None of  the 2007 registration fees (at max price, $120 per runner) were donated to charity, only the money that runners choose to donate on top of the registration fee were earmarked for charity.1  Another recent running fad (coming to Penn State for this year’s Homecoming Weekend), is the Color Run.  Races held for this event series from Anchorage, Alaska2 to Amarillo, TX3 have come under controversy for the promotion of the charity portion of the races.  As of this post, the Color Run website features a separate charity page ( which outlines the multiple routes for funding charity partners.  These two examples illustrate the point on which the charity donation question turns: is it the responsibility of the race to be transparency, the runner to do his/her due diligence, or a combination of the two?

Speaking of due diligence, many races (including the New York City, Chicago, and Seattle Marathons) use a website called Crowdrise (  to allow runners to donate to an official race charity or to set up pages for friends/family/co-workers to donate money to a charity of their choosing.  The idea of crowdsourcing has become omnipresent in our society, with Kickstarter projects ranging from pitches for new inventions and campaigns to bring back pieces of pop culture.  Crowdsourcing fundraising efforts raises a new question: is it incumbent on the runner to be transparent about not only how much of the donation they ask for will be donated to charity but also how websites like this work?

Finally, we come to the burning question: what is the money that isn’t donated to charity used for?  In the case of some marathons, there are employees that oversee details such as obtaining permits, coordinating with city officials, organizing volunteers, and sponsor relationships.   All of that race swag?  Your tech shirt and your shiny new medal?  These need to be paid for as well.  Gatorade and Gu at the rest stops?  Those don’t grow on trees (although many of us have wished mid-run that they did!).  Your registration fees also pay for things like race media, websites, registration pages, and the timing system used during the race.

It’s important to note that this post only looks at it from the perspective of the obligation of the race to the runner.  This neglects larger pieces of the puzzle, such as charity agreements with races, the goal of a charity in partnering for a race (to promote branding or name recognition versus to raise money), and what a charity does with profits raised from races.  Future entries in this blog series will consider ideas and topics in running races (such as race sponsorship), running etiquette, and will also touch on similar topics in hiking.  If you have any suggestions for future entries or comments on this entry, please feel free to contact the author.


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One Response to Midpack Musings: Running for Charity-Where do your dollars go?

  1. Gar Hong says:

    Thanks for the insightful post! I must admit I have signed up for certain races thinking it’s for a good cause so it’s shocking to see the truth!

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