Remember when nonprofit organizations relied on phone-a-thons as their big yearly fundraisers? If not, don’t feel bad, it’s because they’ve long been replaced.
Said Greg Cantori, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, “They’ve gone the way of the dinosaur.”
Instead, nonprofits, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years, have latched onto a trend that continues to grow: a walk, run or biking event. Not only are more organizations utilizing charity walk-type events, they also are experiencing a spike in both attendance and income.
Cantori said the recipe for success lies in nonprofits emphasizing the desires and motivations of its potential donors, much like businesses focusing on their customers. In addition to simply handing over a sum of money, donors who take part in these types of charity events are able to experience personal gain.
“The key behind a really great engagement with your donors is to approach them from their perspective and their needs,” Cantori explained. “I think the rationale behind why this is so successful is that a lot of times people want to run or ride their bikes, but they are much more encouraged when they have a goal set for them. … Everyone goes away feeling warm and fuzzy because they accomplished something personally and for the nonprofit.”
On top of the personal achievement, participants experience a sense of community by physically teaming and competing with individuals who share connections to a particular cause. That sense of inclusiveness is a vital element to retaining participants year after year.
“They get hooked,” Cantori said. “The mission then becomes more and more important to them.”
Most organizations schedule their events when the weather is most accommodating. Late spring and early summer are the prime times because the weather is generally warm and pleasant — not yet to the point where it could deter participants concerned with relentless heat.
Here, in Baltimore, people are gearing up to make a difference for a myriad of worthy causes. For some, it’s to the point where their participation in an event has become an annual routine.
Take Sara Amin. For the fifth straight year, she has helped raise funds for breast cancer research and programs by taking part — and leading teams — in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, a two-day, 39.2-mile event. The walk takes place in eight cities across the U.S. over a six-month period.
With multiple family members who have been affected by breast cancer, Amin views the walk as a natural way to give back, as well as offer others close to her a chance to do the same. Amin’s teams have raised more than $60,000. Individually, she has surpassed $18,000.
While the sheer dollar amounts are undoubtedly significant, it’s participating in the walk itself that captures her emotions every year.
“It’s very easy to hand over $15. For some, it’s easy to hand over $500, [but] I think that doing something physical and actually showing up is allowing yourself to be part of the greater story,” Amin said.
“You’re meeting people who are either survivors or know survivors or know people who have passed. It just makes it all the more real than sitting behind your computer and clicking ‘submit my credit card info.’”
For the last three years, one of Amin’s team members has been her mother, SherriJoyce King, who said feeling as though she and her daughter are interwoven into a broader community is a paramount reason why the event is so uplifting. All King has to do it take one quick glance at the participants around her.
“You see people without hair, clearly going through chemo yet wanting to do this,” King said. “You see people wearing T-shirts with pictures of people who have died. You see all kinds of experiences, and you know you are doing something important.”
While Amin and King are now veterans of their charity event, others can become forever linked to a cause in a matter of minutes.
That was the case for Owings Mills residents Jerry and Eileen Chiat.
In June 2011, kidney failure caused a massive rise in Jerry’s potassium levels, so much so that, after driving to attend a meeting, he could not move his legs to get out of his car.
“They felt like a thousand pounds of concrete,” he recalled.
Jerry was rushed to the hospital and promptly stabilized. He went on dialysis for the next 11 months before he was able to secure a kidney transplant in May 2012.
(Eileen — ruled out as a potential donor — donated her kidney just months later. She said her agreement to donate expedited her husband’s name on the transplant list and “continued the chain.”)
Just a few weeks before Jerry’s transplant, the Chiats participated in the National Kidney Foundation’s Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Their 12-member team raised more than $800. This year — with Jerry toting a healthy kidney and Eileen down one of her own — they’re endeavoring to best that figure.
Rapidly thrust in the kidney community just a short time ago, the walk is an event they foresee taking part in for years to come.
“When you see the families out there, of all ages, that I’m walking for, it really gets to you. We can appreciate how lucky we are,” Eileen said.
Added Jerry, “I think we’ve always been interested in tzedakah, trying to help other people. And, if in a small way we can do that, that’s what were interested in.”
The Chiats happened upon a cause close to home later in their lives. Thirteen-year-old Emma Villamater has been championing hers as long as she can remember.
Emma’s longtime childhood friend has an older brother with autism. Ever since becoming an extended part of their family, she has learned about the developmental disorder and felt motivated to raise money to aid those who are affected by it.
Through ROAR For Autism, an event put on by Kennedy Krieger Institute — offering a 25-mile bike ride, a 5K run/walk race and a low-mileage walk — Emma has an ideal avenue to make an impact. So far, her team, Emma’s Pride, has raised more than $6,000.
“I’m so happy that all my friends and family have supported me because this is a passion that I have,” said Emma, a student at the Bryn Mawr School. “It’s becoming just as important to them as it is to me.”
Additionally, Emma, who became a bat mitzvah at Beth El Congregation last Saturday, implored her guests to donate to the fund in lieu of gifts. She plans on participating in ROAR for the rest of her life, she said, and hopes to be one of the event’s organizers — that is, when she’s old enough.
“I want to make the event even bigger when I grow up,” Emma said. “I’m just hoping that the key to unlock autism is found in my lifetime. It’s so important to me.”
A Mutual Appreciation
When Michael Greenebaum and Jon Sevel created the Maryland Half Marathon five years ago, they expected there would be a smattering of negative feedback from individuals in the affected community.
The 13.1-mile race, which benefits the University of Maryland Stewart and Marlene Greenebaum Cancer Center, is run through Maple Lawn in Fulton, and with the need to shut down certain streets to make way for the runners, Greenebaum anticipated there would be some in the Howard County neighborhood frustrated by the need to make detours.
It turned out to be quite the opposite.
“When you close down roads and inconvenience people, you expect to get some backlash, but with our event I’ve received nothing but positive feedback,” Greenebaum said. “Everyone in the community enjoys the event. It kind of shows you that there are lot of people who still want to do good.”
In its fifth year, the half marathon has raised more than $1 million, and Greenebaum asserts that the race will only continue to flourish.
On top of amassing vital funds for cancer research, Greenebaum — the son of Stewart and Marlene Greenebaum — said that the event touches him on a personal level with every person who comes up and says they are grateful to him for providing an avenue to make a difference.
“What’s been rewarding for me, which I didn’t expect at first, is all the ‘thank yous’ that I get — from people, from the runners, who get to give back and do something to fight cancer,” Greenebaum said. “I’m thanking them, and they’re thanking me.”
Greenebaum emphasized that with federal and state governments tightening their budgets, citizen-based funding carries an even greater importance. Proceeds from previous races directly benefit the center — ranked 11th nationally among 900 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report. For example, one study examined racial disparities among cancer patients. Another beneficiary study worked to research triple negative breast cancer, a more aggressive form of the disease common in African-American women.
“These runs and walks can have a huge impact for their cause,” Greenebaum said. “Even if you can’t go to the event yourself, you can go online and find a [personal] story that makes you want to make a contribution; $25 here, $50 there — it all adds up.”
Mitzvah Miles: Sunday, April 28
Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School
5K run or 1-mile walk, benefiting The Yad B’Yad chesed fund, which
assists Beth Tfiloh families dealing with serious illness or other unforeseen challenges
Walk MS — Baltimore City:
Sunday, April 28
Power Plant Live
5K walk benefiting the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society’s
ROAR For Autism:
Sunday, April 28
Oregon Ridge Park
Avon Walk For Breast Cancer:
Saturday and Sunday, May 4-5, Washington D.C.
Greater Baltimore Kidney Walk:
Sunday, May 5
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
The Maryland Half Marathon:
May 11, Maple Lawn Community (Fulton)