Charity or Highway Robbery?
by Laurel Park, Jan. 17, 2001
Charity or Highway Robbery?
In the past couple of years it seems as though more and more races are
forging links with various charities on both the local and the national
level. Two of the most notable are the Komen Foundation's Race for the
Cure and the Leukemia Society's Team in Training. For the most part I
think this is a wonderful idea and a terrific way to marry a healthy
activity with helping others - a win-win situation.
I sometime wonder, though, if some groups and race directors don't get a
bit too carried away in the name of charity. The point came to my
attention last December, when I noticed a flyer for the local Jingle Bell
5K Run sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation. It sounded like fun, it was
only a 5K, and the course was close to my house. Then I saw the entry
fees: $20 advance, $25 the week before, and $27 day-of-race. As this was a
Friday evening and the race was on Sunday, my only option would have been
the $27 day-of-race cost. Despite the intrinsic appeal of the race, and
the worthwhile charitable cause, I was not about to spend $9 per mile on a
5K race. I put the flyer back.
On the one hand, my conscience was bothering me and I felt stingy. The
race was, after all, benefiting the Arthritis Foundation, an excellent
organization that assists thousands of people in SE Michigan. On the other
hand, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was being taken advantage
of. I've worked on race committees and I know putting on races isn't cheap
but it doesn't justify charging $20 for early entry for a 5K (and it makes
me wonder where all that money is going). Finally, I ended being somewhat
annoyed that by charging so much, the Arthritis Foundation had put me in
the position of weighing selfish financial concerns with the universal
appeal of "doing good."
A couple of years ago at another Jingle Bell Run, I protested the cost of
the race to the race director. She suggested that I contact the person in
charge of fundraising at the Arthritis Foundation, as they were the ones
who set the fees. I wrote this person a letter, pointing out that a lower
entry fee might bring out more runners and actually increase the bottom
line. She wrote a very lengthy and polite response, pointing out that most
people choose to participate regardless of the cost because it is a great
cause; basically, she was saying (in so many words, and I am paraphrasing)
"we charge that much because we can get away with it."
I would much prefer that the race charge a reasonable entry fee and give
the option of donating an additional amount. Or, cut back on awards and
amenities and funnel that money to the cause. I'm sure there are many ways
races could raise money for charity without price-gouging their customers.
I should point out that this is by no means the case with every race that
is run to benefit charity. Many races that donate a chunk of their
proceeds manage to exist while charging perfectly reasonable entry fees.
And I am more than happy to pay those fees, participate in those races,
and help out that charity in the process. But I do resent the "emotional
blackmail" exercised by some races, and it tends to sour my opinion of the
associated charity as well. In my opinion, the decision to contribute to
charity should not be prompted by a guilt trip.