March 04, 2010

Athletic Events See Drop in Donations

The nation's biggest charity walkathons, bike races, and similar events saw an 8-percent drop in gross revenue last year, collecting a total of $1.6-billion, according to a new report of the top 30 charity athletic-event fund-raising programs.

But while the recession ate into the amount of money collected last year, the number of people who participated in the events remained steady from 2008 to 2009, at about 11.3 million people.

The report from the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council, in Rye, N.Y., is based on a survey of charity programs that recruit participants to collect pledges to compete in athletics events.

The fourth annual survey is the first to report a decline in gross revenues, following a 12.1 percent increase from 2006 to 2007, and a 7.6 percent jump from 2007 to 2008.

"The statistics are actually heartening," says David Hessekiel, president of the council, an association of event organizers. It's not as if people have given up running, walking, or biking for a good cause; it's just that because of the economic downturn they couldn't collect as much money to do it."

Most charities in the survey, he says, expect revenues from their athletics programs this year to stay flat or increase slightly.

The Crohn & Colitis Foundation, which three years ago started Team Challenge, a fund-raising program for people interested in running half marathons, is projecting a nearly 10 percent rise in the number of participants this year.

According to the council's report, the foundation saw far and away the biggest revenue increase from 2008 to 2009, nearly doubling the money it collected from its running program, to $8.7-million.

At the same time, though, 20 of the 30 charity programs in the council's report experienced a decline in earnings.

Among the top five fund-raising efforts -- the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, March of Dimes' March for Babies, and the American Heart Association's Start! Heart Walk -- only the Race for the Cure collected more in 2009, a 6 percent increase, to $120.3-million.