Charitable Runs/Walks

Charitable Runs/Walks with High Volunteer and Participation Engagement

Two charity events with high volunteer and participant engagement include the Marine Corps Marathon and Relay For Life. They both have high volunteer and participation engagement.


  • The Marine Corps Marathon was founded in 1976, and last year, 30,000 participants ran the 26.2-mile route. The race generates a lot of buzz.
  • Their events are served by around 1,800 volunteers who are crucial to the success of its operation. According to the Marine Corps Marathon spokeswoman Ashley Topolsky, the runners are encouraged by the Marines and the volunteers, and in turn, the volunteers are inspired by the runners.
  • Volunteers are usually connected to the military directly or by familial and other ties, and they want to show appreciation by volunteering at this event and showing the military men and women their appreciation.
  • Marine Corps Marathon partners with other charities who all run their own recruiting operations. Each charity either serves members of the military or veterans.
  • Wegman’s also supports by having orange slices and 50,000 water bottles at the finish line.


  • Relay for Life is the signature charity walk event put on by the American Cancer Society. It has raised around $5 billion to date with the help of coordinated volunteers in more than 5,000 communities in 27 countries.
  • Relay For Life volunteers are highly involved. They help with registration, logistics, participant support, and other activities based on location. This volunteer-driven model makes Relay For Life the most successful fundraising event in the world.
  • Relay For Life’s success is due to them letting volunteers have complete autonomy and let each volunteer step up in big ways. This keeps volunteers happy and makes them want to do more.
  • The Relay For Life is put on by the American Cancer Society, which has its own volunteer-led programs and systems. They have tools that they give to each volunteer to help them recruit other volunteers of various backgrounds.

Charitable Runs/Walks: Trends

It was found that organizing walks/races around diseases and having a creative theme combined with a strong tie to the mission make a charity run/walk successful.

Trend#1 : Organizing walks/races around diseases which are on the rise, brings success

  • According to the Atlantic, although charity walk events are on the decline, the ones that have bucked this trend are linked to diseases.
  • The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, organized by The Alzheimer’s Association, is one such successful charity walk, mainly because of Alzheime’s is high prevalence in the U.S. (10% of elders in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease).
  • Other thriving charity walks in the U.S. include Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk.
  • It was seen that pancreatic cancer, leukemia and lymphoma have been on the rise in the US. The number of cases for these diseases in 2016, 2017 and 2018 are as follows:

Pancreatic Cancer: 2016 : 53,070 2017 : 53,670 2018 : 55,440
Leukemia and Lymphoma combined:2016 : 141,220 2017 : 142,630 2018 : 143,480

Organizations/non-profits that have applied the trend/strategy successful:

  • The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, organized by The Alzheimer’s Association, is the third-largest peer-to-peer fundraising program in the U.S., which generated more than $89 million in 2017.
  • The Walk to End Alzheimer’s grew by 8 percent due to its unique messaging targeting Alzheimer’s.
  • The PurpleStride charity walk event by Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) celebrated its first $1 million event in 2019.
  • The PurpleStride also registered record attendance and donations in 2019.
  • The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walks also registered a decade-long continuous growth, which saw their donations revenue increase from $26 million in 2006 to $68.5 million in 2016.
  • According to the latest data, Light the Night has invested nearly $1.3 billion in cancer research since its inception.

Trend#2 : Having a creative theme combined with a strong tie to the mission

  • According to Forbes, the charity walks which are growing today are relying on creative themes to stand out from their peers.
  • The successful charity walks are also tied strongly to the organization’s mission to keep their participants engaged and coming back.
  • One such successful charity walk that is creative and tied strongly to the organization’s mission is The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walks that take place at night.
  • Another such walk is the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k race where runners enjoy music, hot chocolate merchandise, and a finisher’s mugs filled with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue and tasty dippable treats.
  • The theme is also tied strongly to the organization’s mission as the official message of the charity is “make-a-wish” and it aims to create life-changing moments for children with critical illnesses.

Organizations/non-profits that have applied the trend/strategy successfully:

–The total number of teams participating increased by 10% to 504 teams.–The total number of walkers increased by 20% to 4,728 walkers.–The total funds raised increased by 22% to $594,932.

  • The Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k charity race organized by RAM Racing got over 200,000 participants to run for chocolate since its inception in 2008 and is reported as the fastest growing race series in the US.

Charitable Runs/Walks: Reason for the Decline in Participation

Four reasons traditional run and walk events have declined recently include runners are bored with the current experience, increased competition from similar runs, the Millennial and Gen Z generations are running less, and the decline of the middle class.

1. Increased Competition from Similar Runs

  • The fundraising field is getting more crowded every year, and the competition can be stifling for nonprofits. In Denver, it’s increasingly difficult to keep up attendance figures for events that have been city staples for decades.”
  • Walkathons were not big money raisers, as they could cost 25 to 50 cents for every dollar they earned.
  • As time went by, and the number of events grew, these events cannibalized one another. As a result, these events divided participation and money raised decreased as well.
  • One example is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s endurance-sport Team in Training which had revenues decline by nearly 28% between 2017 and 2018. Additionally, the decline was observed in events like this for over a decade.
  • Because so many events popped up to compete with this event, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s monopoly fell apart. This phenomenon is seen in many charitable walks and runs. Athlete enthusiasm has leveled off, even though the number of runs hasn’t.
  • Even though 2016 had 114,800 fewer runners than the year before, it gained new races. The decline of runners has been directly proportional to the decline of revenues from runs.
  • One of the biggest drops come from National Relay for Life events, which earned the American Cancer Society $400 million in 2010, but only earned $273 million in 2016.

2. Millennials and Gen Z Running Less

  • Running events have been losing its hold on 18-year-olds to 34-year-olds. Millennials have become the largest living generation, but their presence has declined to just 33% of finishers in 2015, which decreased from 35% a year earlier.
  • Runners aged 25-34 dropped by 19%, while runners aged 18-24 have dropped 22%.
  • Experts believe that the reason for this isn’t because millennials are leading sedentary lifestyles, but because they rather use fitness studios such as CrossFit and other gyms.

3. Decline of the Middle Class

  • Some charitable runs and walks depend on donations of non-participants, such as walkathons and charity races. Traditionally, these donations were small and given by many people. However, the decline of the middle class has caused a decline in these events.
  • The decline of the middle class and the growing wealth gap has caused fewer people to have disposable income. This growing wage gap has caused for there to be fewer contributions to philanthropy.
  • Charities on a whole now depend on mega-donations from the wealthy. In the early 2000s, households earning $200,000 or more made only 30% of charitable deductions, but now that group makes up 52%.
  • Technology has changed middle class giving too. Instead of walkathons or charitable runs, charities are now turning to Facebook Cause or GoFundMe to receive gifts from small donors. Going door-to-door with money-collecting envelopes is not as effective as it used to be.
  • Runners are looking for new experiences.
  • Runners will pay more for a better experience and are willing to run in lower-priced events if they are fun. 66% of runners say they are constantly looking for a new event experience.
  • Also, 21% of runners say they would pay more for a VIP race experience.
  • But it seems runners are not getting at least some of what they wish, as 51% say they wished current traditional running events offered more than the usual ‘swag’ when runners crossed the finish line.
  • Many events popped up at the height of traditional run and walk events and made generic events that did not give any attention or focus to the runner experience.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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