March 07, 2012

Walkathons and Athletic Events Raise More Money in 2011

Last year, the top 30 fundraising races, walks, and other athletic events took in $1.69- billion, an increase of almost 2.5 percent over 2010, according to the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council’s sixth annual study.

It was the second year in a row of overall growth among the top athletic fundraising events. In 2010 cumulative contributions were up 1.6 percent over the previous year. By contrast, total donations to the top 30 events in 2009 were down 8.5 percent compared with 2008.

Multi-Day Events Stumble

In 2011, donations rose for 23 of the top 30 events. Of the seven events that raised less money in 2011, the steepest declines were for multi-day events that require participants to commit to high fundraising minimums.

For example, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer raised $45-million in 2011, an 18.2-percent decline from $55-million in 2010. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, which prepares participants for marathons, cycling events, and triathlons, brought in $87.5-million in 2011, down 9.8 percent from $97-million in 2010.

With the economy still shaky, it makes sense that some participants would be reluctant to make big fundraising commitments, says David Hessekiel, president of the council: “In a really rough economic time, people can give less.”

The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life was the top athletic fundraising event in 2011, raising $415-million in contributions. A complete list of the top 30 events and how much they brought in is available online.

Repeat Participants

Another new report offers and in-depth analysis of athletic fundraising events run by six large health charities, including the Alzheimer’s Association and March of Dimes. Conducted by Blackbaud, a fundraising software company, the study looks at three years of data from 10 national events: six walks, two bike rides, a 5-kilometer run, and a two-day challenge walk.

The study found that, on average, returning participants raise up to twice as much money as new participants. The average size of a contribution raised by a multi-year participant is $69, compared with $49 by a newcomer.

On average, however, the groups in the study retained only 25 percent of fundraising participants each year.

“The greatest opportunity to increase revenue lies in retaining more participants from one year to the next,” writes Amy Braiterman, the report’s author.

Holly Hall contributed to this article.