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For Charities, It's Off to the Races

November 14, 2010

(Reilly Kiernan recently started a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she compared her experience working at a medium-sized nonprofit to the nonprofit experiences of her two roommates.)

Nyc_marathon_2010 If you live in New York City, it's hard not to notice the annual early November invasion of the spandex-clad. From the bright orange "marathon route" signs to the giant ads on the sides of city buses to the 45,000 runners from all over the world, the ING New York City Marathon is not only one of the biggest marathons in the world, it's also one of the most popular.

I'm a competitive runner, and even though I didn't run in this year's marathon, I was an enthusiastic cheerleader as a human wave of runners rolled up First Avenue in Manhattan. It's truly inspiring to watch an event where so many people are willing to test the limits of their endurance. And it's inspiring for another reason: the NYC marathon is actually a huge fundraiser for a wide range of charities.

In fact, over the last few years, the marathon has raised more than $20 million annually for charity. This year, race organizers partnered with Crowdrise, an online fundraising portal launched with the help of actor Edward Norton, to raise at least $1 million per mile. Although the exact amount hasn't been published, the early buzz is that the total is likely to exceed $30 million.

I love running. I'm one of those people who chooses to get up before dawn to push myself to do something that other people think is crazy. And I love running races, the adrenaline rush, the solidarity forged through competition. But I'm not so crazy about how self-centered running can be. So, for me, the chance to run far or fast and do good at the same time is a perfect combination. Which is why, over the last few months, I've supported the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Pelham Children's Center through my racing.

I guess you could say running allows me to be incidentally philanthropic. And I'm not the only one. After scanning the Web for some stats, I learned that:

  • the London Marathon is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual fundraising event in the world. In 2010, 80 percent of runners in the race had some connection to a fundraiser, and, collectively, theose runners raised more than $81 million;
  • in 2010, the Boston marathon raised $11 million for local charities;
  • in 2008, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program, which provides coaching and support to athletes training for certain races, claimed more than 360,000 participants and raised over $850 million for blood cancer research and patient services;
  • the Chicago Marathon raised more than $10.1 million in 2009;
  • Running USA estimates that runners in the U.S. participating in races from 5k on up  raised more than $1 billion in 2009.

Wow. If you ever needed a reminder that nothing we do is entirely about ourselves, the list above is as a good as any. What about you? Have you ever run or walked for a cause? Was it a good experience? Did it motivate you to run faster or walk farther? I'd love to hear about your experience....

-- Reilly Kiernan

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