Open: NYC Marathon Slots
The Fine Print: You Must Raise Funds for Charities Facing Dearth of Runners
Article by: Sara Germano; Kevin Trahan contributed
Charities that use the New York City Marathon to raise funds are struggling to meet their goals this year, in part because of the hurricane-induced cancellation of last year's race.
Still unfilled are about half of the 8,200 slots reserved in the marathon for so-called charity runners, who earn their bibs by raising thousands of dollars apiece for philanthropic causes.
Some charities are issuing alerts. Earlier this month, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society sent out a mass email describing an "unprecedented situation": Its Team in Training program, normally sold out by July, is facing a critical dearth of registrants for what the charity calls its largest event of the year.
"We are looking at a recruitment deficit of over 250 participants, which equates to roughly $1 million in lost revenue," said the email, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The email encouraged recipients to reach out to their connections to further recruitment.
Chris Fenton, vice president of Team in Training, acknowledged in an interview on Friday that the organization is having a hard time recruiting fund-raising runners but said he still "felt bullish." Since the email was sent, the deficit has decreased to between 100 and 150 runners.
Michael Rodgers, vice president of development and philanthropy at the New York Road Runners, which puts on the race, said the organization is acutely aware of the challenges its charity partners are facing this year.
"Across the board, many of our large charity programs' allotment is filling slower than in years past," Rodgers said. Most charities are at about 50% capacity, he said, with close to 15 weeks left until the race.
Charity runners who raised large amounts to earn spots in last year's race received from NYRR the offer of guaranteed entry into this year's race, without having to raise any additional funds for charity. That's likely one reason for the soft demand for charity spots this year.
Some 64% of runners who had entered the 2012 race through a charity program have elected to run in 2013, according to Rodgers, adding that many have chosen to raise money again.
Michaela Seccareccia, president of Team Boomer, which benefits cystic fibrosis and the Boomer Esiason Foundation, said that 2012 was the program's best year to date, but that this year, "instead of people banging down our door, we have to do more outreach."
"I've got to get these spots filled, I have to get this money raised, or else, I don't know," she said. She declined to define a specific fundraising goal for 2013.
Seccareccia said about 50% of last year's participants recommitted. Those runners were asked to pay a fee of $500 which goes towards coaching, uniforms and other race incidentals. But they were not required again to raise the minimum $3,000 they did last year.
Still, she noted that the program has experienced a lag before, especially during the early years of the financial crisis.
As of mid-July, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation had registered only about 65 of its available bibs for this year's New York marathon, said spokeswoman Alicia O'Neill. The foundation hopes to raise $575,000 from its NYC Marathon program.
"We're having a really tough time filling our spots. I shouldn't have 35 open slots right now," O'Neill said.
Team in Training's Fenton said it wasn't clear precisely why the charity is facing a dearth this year. "The short answer is, we don't know. Everyone's struggling and we're just fortunate we have the breadth of a 25-year program with alumni to reach out to," he said.
Possibly playing a role, Fenton said, is lingering concerns over marathon safety resulting from April's Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three and injured hundreds.
"You just don't know," he said.
Rodgers, speaking for the New York Road Runners, said, "Have I heard anyone express a [specific] concern that they're not running this year because of Boston? No. Is that a speculation that we've heard [in general]? Yes. We're going to be prepared for that, for race day."
So coveted are slots in the New York marathon that about 100,000 runners applied for bibs for this year's race, with an expected field of 48,000.