Why do we “-thon”?

Research | June 12, 2012

As the season of charitable walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons and jog-a-thons heats up, the Chimp blog is starting a series taking a look at charitable campaigns, from athletic events to charitable consumer products. Welcome to installment #1.

History (or rather Wikipedia) tells us that the world’s first walk-a-thon took place in Puerto Rico in 1953. Diplo, a famous Puerto Rican actor, walked 129km across the island in four days, raising the equivalent of $85,000 for the Puerto Rican League Against Cancer – not bad for a first kick at the can! More than 60 years later, Diplo would salivate at the dollar figures an athletic fundraiser can rake in. In 2011, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life was the number one athletic fundraising event in the US, raising a whopping $415 million dollars.

But $415 million dollars doesn’t come cheap. A Wall Street Journal article refers to the high cost of fundraising via special events, which it pegs at roughly 50 cents on the dollar, more than double the nonprofit average. Some athletic fundraisers, especially smaller ones, actually lose money, such as a longstanding curling event in Regina, cancelled this year after it lost money in 2011.

A New York Times op-ed entitled ‘The Weirdness of Walking to Raise Money” points out another consideration when it comes to “thons”: Participants could just as easily be volunteering for the cause, making a concrete impact in their communities. With that in mind, is this type of event the best use of resources?

For the time being, these kinds of mobilizing fundraising events happen for a reason. Charities obviously think the money spent will recruit enough new donors and dollars to offset costs. And awareness is a big factor; there’s no denying the symbolic power of thousands of people streaming down the street in pink t-shirts. As the op-ed concludes, by involving your friends and family, a walk-a-thon “personalizes the issue, quite literally turning the abstract into the concrete, converting perspiration into philanthropy. There is an exquisite — albeit attenuated — logic to it all.”

Have you ever given money to someone who participates in athletic fundraisers? Are you doing it to support that person or the cause?


Can I use Chimp to support someone participating in a charity event?
You sure can. We’ve heard from a number of chimpers that they actually find it easier to yes when someone asks for a pledge if they already have money in their Chimp Funds. And when you’re the one asking, Chimp makes it pretty much pain-free.

To support someone else who’s participating, you have two options:
1)  Send money to the event’s beneficiary charity. Just find the charity on Chimp and include a note with your gift, specifying the participant’s name. If possible, also include their account number for the event, along with the location if there are multiple sites. It’s best to include as much information as possible in the note – you can even include your email addresses in case the charity has any questions (just consider you will also likely go on their email list).
2)  Send money directly to the participant. Instead of supporting the charity, make it even more personal. By chimping your friends or family directly, you show your support for their efforts and allow them to pass on the money to the charity.

– SM


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