Why run for charity?

On 14 July, I’ll be running the British 10k to raise money for Sunseed Tanzania. In the next few weeks, I’ll most likely have several posts telling you more about Sunseed and guilting you into donating (brace yourselves!) but in the meantime, I thought it appropriate to reflect on why it is that I’m choosing to raise money in this way.

Remember this?

Remember this?

Part of the reason I felt the need to think (and consequently write) more about this is because the meaning of “running for charity” or “for a cause” seems somewhat different here than in the US, where there are entire races devoted to raising money for a particular cause, often healthcare-related (think “race for the cure”). Some races are not explicitly charity-focused, but advertise that “proceeds from the race will go to x worthwhile organization.” Even in Uganda, the MTN Kampala Marathon raised money for clean drinking water in a particular district in the country.

In the UK, however, it seems that in any given race, you will find that a significant percentage of runners are running to raise money for all sorts of different charities, which are devoted to a wide range of causes — from wildlife conservation to medical research to affordable housing to, in my case, energy-efficient cookstoves in Tanzania. I know a few friends in the US who have done something similar, but for the most part, “running for a cause” is usually understood in the former sense

Now, no matter which method of charity running to which you are accustomed, you might still (reasonably) ask:

Why not just give the money to a charity? Or at least ask other people to give it without all this racing nonsense?

My first answer is that Faith and I don’t (yet) have loads of money  to give, and what we do give is currently divided up amongst several groups. Secondly, the combination of my middle class consciousness and Midwestern American sensibilities makes me feel very cheeky and a bit self-conscious about asking anyone to give money to anything, unless I myself am already doing so as well. In the absence of that, training for and running a race is another way of demonstrating that I too have made some commitment to the organisation to which I”m asking people to donate.

But on another level, I’m somewhat ambivalent about the effects of large (let’s say 5-figure and above) donations to not-for-profit organisations. Having worked with or for several organisations that received huge grants from large foundations, corporations and government, I realise that getting such massive sums in one fell swoop frees worthy groups from the burden of having to always be asking for money to keep their good work going.

But I also have seen how being so reliant on funds from a small number of sources creates an uncomfortable power dynamic, with large donors often feeling entitled to to treat benefiting charities as a vehicle for their pet projects, and with the charities themselves often feeling pressure to bend to the wishes of their benefactors, regardless of whether or not those fit with their core mission.

Doesn't it all just make you want to donate to something?

Doesn’t it all just make you want to donate to something?

So, in my opinion, lots of smaller donations are preferable (where possible) to a few really big ones. But I also realise that there needs to be some sort of event or occasion to galvanise a significant number of people to make small donations to something. Disasters have a way of doing that. Big rallies and concerts have been successful at this in the past.

And similarly, something like a big, high profile running race can also serve as an impetus for lots of people to make lots of small donations.

So that’s my reasoning. For other runners who’ve used races to raise money for charity, what’s your reasoning? And for everyone, runner or otherwise…visit my fundraising page! 

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