Monday, 25 June 2012

Showing you care: charity run edition

Charity runs remain a far more effective way of showing that you care about something than of actually achieving much. Here's Tristin Hopper in the National Post:
In May, 2011, runner Scott Cannata set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland with the aim of collecting $70-million for cancer research in a marathon-a-day journey across Canada.
Eight months later, Mr. Cannatta arrived in Port Renfrew, B.C. having only generated $40,000. Without even factoring in the money Mr. Cannata spent on food, a support vehicle and 19 pairs of runners, the sum is only about $10,000 more than what the average Canadian worker would have earned in the same time period.
Since May 9, Alick Brooke and Guy Bourassa have been riding on horseback from Edmonton to Halifax in a bid to raise money to combat child exploitation. Setting out with a goal of $1 million, as of June 22 the pair’s website only counted $7,500.
“It is kind of puzzling that people do this,” said Christopher Olivola, a post-doctoral fellow at the U.K.’s Warwick Business School and a researcher on the science of charitable giving. “After all, the act of running itself doesn’t generate money, so why would you give to someone who is running a marathon instead of doing something else?”
One of my first blog posts, back when I did a guest stint at EconLog, hit on the inefficiency of charity races; I revisited it last year.

Here's what I sent Mr. Hopper when he emailed asking for comment; he used a short piece of it.
“Charity runs and races are a great way of raising awareness about causes – who can fail to notice when local streets are closed to accommodate a run? But they’re not a particularly efficient way of generating donations, especially when we consider the time and effort that participants put into training. People who have hit me up for donations for their participation have told me they’ve trained forty hours or more for some of these events; most participants could do more for their chosen cause by taking a part-time job or putting in overtime, donating the results to charity, and hitting up their friends to join in and do the same. It’s pretty hard for me not to come to the conclusion that donating does more to encourage a friend’s gym attendance than to help the charity.”
“Charities do keep running these events, so they must either judge the publicity benefits to be worth a fair bit or estimate that most people wouldn’t bother giving anything if there weren’t a big public event. But wouldn’t it be better if we could get people to put in 40 hours volunteering for their charity and then have a big parade for the volunteers instead of having them put in 40 hours training followed by a race? If the charities reckon they would have fewer participants under that kind of system, what does that tell us about what the race participants are really trying to achieve?”
“Charity races provide a complicated bundle of goods to participants in exchange for a bit of revenue. As best I can tell, the biggest benefit to a lot of participants is an enforced exercise regimen. Your friends will be watching to make sure you complete the race, and you can’t complete the race unless you train pretty hard. This gets bundled with a lot of warm fuzzy feelings about helping a charity, which also can help motivate people to go to the gym and train by helping them convince themselves that they’re helping a lot of people by spending time on the treadmill. But surely volunteering for the charity, or taking a part-time job and donating the proceeds, has to do more for your chosen charity than running on a treadmill. It’s then not all that different from Canadian accountants flying out to the Philippines to work on Habitat for Humanity projects: they could hire a couple dozen trained carpenters with what they’re spending on airfares, but they wouldn’t get the trip to the Philippines or the warm fuzzy feelings. I don’t feel too guilty when I decline either kind of solicitation.”


  1. I have found an interesting spin off of Relay for Life: Relay for Life of Second Life []. Second Life [ ] is an on line MMO where one takes on the form of an avatar, (I only know this because Second Life was on 60 minutes one time; two people met and married on the game). Relay for Life Second Life works a lot like Relay for Life. You go out and try get sponsors for your team. Sponsors donate money to the cause, given that your team successfully completes the challenge. To complete the challenge at least one person from your team must be on the running track at all times. The challenge ends after two days and two nights.

    Unlike Relay for Life, Relay for Life of Second Life requires no physical preparation, apart from online parties (for example Fashion for Life and the Home and Garden Expo).
    The amount of USD raised per person from 2004 - 2011 follows: 20, 15, 26, 64, 96, 143, 144, and 175. It is obvious that the amount raised per person is increasing each year and hence the event is becoming more efficient. It would be interesting to compute and compare various charity runs to see if it is possible to get an efficient outcome relative to the cost of organizing such an event. That is, the cost of lost wages arising from participation and training for the event and overhead costs of organizing the event.

  2. Ah, we're at cross purposes. The trick is not to take your money but to get the participant to pay for his own pleasure/obsession and if you can offer something to the dutiful spouse and kids, so much the better.

    When you talk sponsorship of the type in the above examples most people instinctively understand that the participant is indulging his own interest and so the donations are typically from family, friends and perhaps the company he works for.


  3. My experience of running such events for charity is that you have to meet the needs of the participants first and then the needs of the charity. Also, there's good repeatable money is in the registrants, ie, you now have a database of people interested in an event(s) who like to incidentally help out a charity, and you can spin off into other things using the database.