I typically make a few charitable donations a year. One or two of these are to specific causes and organizations that I care about. Some will be in lieu of a gift and therefore meaningful to another person. And the rest are for causes that I care about but associated with some sort of athletic endeavour. Most often this is the 5k fun run.
I like the fun runs because the registration fee is relatively low and there are no expectations for me to raise a lot of donations as I am not great at asking people for money. This year, without the costs and time commitments associated with my regular sports, I added in a couple new ones including a Trans Canada Race that has all participants logging their distance each week to see how much of the Trans Canada Trail we can cover virtually — so far we’ve travelled from the east to the west coast and we headed north last week. This one is raising funds for Canada Food Banks. The second one I signed up for that is longer than a 5k is the Great Cycling Challenge. This one, also virtual, has participants setting distance goals for how far they are going to cycle for the month of August. My goal is currently set at 200 km, but I have a feeling I’ll be increasing that before the month is done. If I’m honest, I might increase it before this week is done. This challenge is raising money for the Sick Kids Foundation. The target is to raise funds to fight childhood cancers. This one sets the highest goals for fundraising but doesn’t make it a requirement of participation, which I appreciate. (Just in case you are looking for a cause to donate to, here is my fundraising page for this event.)
I thought that I would reflect on my own reasons for participating in these events and then compare that to what the research has found in terms of common motivations. Last, I’ll look at what sorts of benefits these events have for the causes and/or organizations that they support.
Personally, my motivation is based around two considerations. I like having external events to help motivate me. Having a target helps me to plan my training in a more concrete way. My second reason is that donating to a cause makes it feel a little less selfish to sign up for a race for the fun of it. I should add though, that I also participate in sports that aren’t connected to charities or fundraisers. So, ultimately, I just enjoy the atmosphere of sporting events.
Bennett, Mousley, Kitchin, and Ali-Choudhury (2007) surveyed over 500 people who had participated in charity related sporting events. The four top reasons for participating were connection to the cause that was being supported, the events helped support healthy lifestyles, the person was involved in the sport already, and social connections with attendees. While for me, my one motivation really falls under the second one of this list, I have also done events because of the sport, but rarely do my main sports have charity races. I have also done one event a few times because a sports team I’m on does it, so I’m there for the cause and the social component. I have participated because of the cause but typically it is a more distant connection than for people who, for example, run in memory of a loved one.
Wharf Higgins and Lauzon (2003) examined these events for their value to the non-profits they are connected to. This is an important one to me because I try to ensure that I donate money to organizations that use the money for the cause. I was caught once in donating to an organization that was called out shortly thereafter for excessive administration costs. Wharf Higgins and Lauzon found that the events celebrate a cause, satisfy participants’ physical activity interests, act as fundraisers, and serve as publicity tools.
In terms of fundraising, Wharf Higgins and Lauzon found that the events they examined raised an average of $72.81 CAN per participant. This, they report, is a significant portion of the average annual donations to secular charitable organizations which averages to $264 CAN annually per household. Interestingly, some of the interviewees commented that they liked “to do something, rather than just donate money” (p. 370). This resonates for me as well. The organizations interviewed also expressed that they were finding physical activity fundraisers as superior to other types of fundraising activities like door-to-door and mail out campaigns. Another comment from the interviewees was that some prefer paying a higher registration fee (with an embedded donation and tax receipt) to avoid having to collect pledges.
I’m not surprised that these events are beneficial to fundraising efforts given how many of these events continue to happen. I do worry about the future of the events in a world of covid though. Will they continue being successful when there is such a high potential risk in having mass gatherings? I also wonder howw could diversity the events, both in terms of who participates and how you participate. Maybe we need a daily activity challenge, where the point is to just do something everyday? Or perhaps, an “event” could be set up so that you got your participant tshirt and then participated throughout the year by doing any sport you do while in your charity shirt and tagging it on social media? Let’s think outside the fun run (and charity golf tournament) box to get more people involved and keep these valuable fundraising tools going regardless of what the future brings.