About a dozen years ago my daughters’ 4-H group decided to hold a children’s foot race as a fund-raiser. After all, one of the H’s in 4-H stands for health, and they had a readymade director in me, the lone runner among our club’s adult leaders.
Anyone that’s directed a race knows the difficult task I’d undertaken, especially in an area rife with poverty and no official running programs. And did I mention this event was in hot ‘n’ humid, hurricane-prone North Carolina in mid-August? Nothing initially went according to plan, but by race day we had beautiful weather and a bona fide 100-yard dash and 400-meter series for area schoolchildren held at the local high school track. It included a pep talk by a U.S. track and field Olympian; finisher’s medals, personalized running bibs, goodie bags and T-shirts for all participants; plenty of bottled water and Powerade (both rare there); and school supplies for those who finished various fitness challenges, such as rulers for those who did 10 sit-ups and erasers for 5 push-ups. Even the local press came and gave us great coverage. The morning’s event ended with an awards ceremony after each athlete and his or her entire family received a free lunch, served up from the concession stand.
The cost to enter: $5. The profit from each entrant: $5.
Sponsors paid for the entire event either through donating items, services or money so that I could keep costs for entry as low as possible. It didn’t take much to convince them this was a worthy cause; soliciting financial help, however, was different.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to take note of who sponsors my favorite races and to patronize or recommend them if possible. In a tightening economy like the one we’re experiencing, it’s especially important to thank those individuals and businesses that stand behind running events. We who enter races are an excellent demographic (marathoners, for instance, have an average household income of $95,000), which helps recruit donations. But the new running boom’s rise in the number of road races and triathlons, combined with the current economic crunch, is putting the squeeze on local merchants.
A successful organized run with great feedback (when warranted) from participants is also a good way to impress sponsors and keep an event on the calendar. Use those coupons and samples in goodie bags, too. Donors enjoy supporting races that produce results.
By the third year of our children’s annual August foot race, not only did past sponsors gladly give, but others came forward without me even asking. It turns out some of the past participants’ parents loved the footrace festival, and they told their employers.
That particular event also made me realize another way we with much can give to those with less. While doing outreach in disadvantaged neighborhoods, I asked local youth leaders to put up flyers. One woman deeply rooted in one community saw one and decided to “sponsor” about a dozen at-risk youths by personally providing their transportation and entry fees. Not only did their participation supply the kind of diversity and exposure I’d hoped for, but it gave me an idea. Next time you want to help make a difference in a child’s or struggling adult’s life, “sponsor” them at a local 5k run/walk and encourage them to train. You could do it personally or approach a youth group’s leadership to find eager applicants. Maybe there’s a niece or nephew or cousin or sister or brother who could use a boost. Trust me, you’ll feel great too.