Walking (And Some Jogging!) For Charity

The beautiful lake at Cone Island as the sun was going down. Me likey the bare tree, too.

This weekend, I participated in two different walks for charity, and I wanted to share the experience, my photos, and dig into the charities a little bit.

I wonder when it became such a thing that there are seemingly walks and runs to raise money and awareness for every major disease and ailment, and cause. But it makes sense: It’s a natural way to get people together, and get excited about doing something good. Plus, getting people moving is its own “good cause,” too. Certainly some do it solo, but it’s also a way for people to team up and bond over doing something good. Again, that awareness piece. Awareness, I think, matters. It sort of gets a bad reputation in charity circles, but it is important to highlight what the problem is, define it, and educate people on it. But obviously, especially when it comes to monetary donations, it is nice to know that money is going toward actionable items rather than largely the awareness piece.

The first run I did with my twin was on Saturday, April 23, the Night Nation Run in Cincinnati at the Coney Island theme park. It was the first Night Nation Run since 2019 due to the pandemic canceling the event the prior two years. With less of a focus on running the 5K, Night Nation Run instead amps up the party aspect of the event; it’s billed as a “running music festival.” That’s because there are DJs stationed throughout the course with chest-pumping music, and a much bigger DJ booth at center stage before the starting line. I’m an old man, though. I can’t handle that loud music for that long. Sorry, ears.

A sampling of the LOUD NOISES.

For the Night Nation Run, the neon colors, the glow-in-the-dark paint, the bubbles, the strobe lights, and the music is all geared ostensibly toward raising money for cancer research through SU2C, aka Stand Up To Cancer. The aim of the nonprofit is to “accelerate innovative cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now.” They want to make everyone diagnosed with cancer a survivor.

The way SU2C sees its mission is to “galvanize the entertainment industry” to help bankroll its fight against cancer, and obviously, that trickles down to events like Night Nation Run, where the 5K event is more of a party atmosphere. Heck, in a circle around the DJ’s main stage were food trucks and alcohol offerings. You don’t typically see alcohol offerings at other charity 5Ks.

According to SU2C, 258 clinical trials have been funded by the organization’s fundraising efforts, with $746 million pledged to the work of 1,950 scientists. They believe, and I’m not smart enough to dispute this, that “what we learn about one cancer often has great application to others.” I hope that’s true (there were waves made in early 2020 upon the news of a breakthrough on the “one-size-fits-all” treatment front, or at least applicability).

In a break-down of diseases funded in particular, the majority goes toward pancreatic cancer (19 percent), breast cancer (14 percent), lung cancer (12 percent), and not-site specific cancer (10 percent). But they cover the gambit from pediatric to prostate to leukemia to brain tumors to kidney cancer.

So, SU2C is a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, also a charitable organization. According to Charity Navigator, the world’s foremost nonprofit evaluator, and a nonprofit itself, SU2C is rated four stars out of a possible four, meaning “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause.”

About 84.8 percent of the organization’s funding goes toward programs, with the rest split between administrative and fundraising efforts. Interestingly, Charity Navigator has a “fundraising efficiency” calculation. EIF spends six cents for every dollar it raises. That seems like a good ratio (and it received a 10/10).

To put the 84.8 percent another way: SU2C brought in about $53.6 million in fiscal year 2019, which means they spent $45.5 million on programming. That seems promising to me!

That said, I’m not sure about Night Nation Run itself. It was expensive! I paid about $66-ish, which covered the registration ($40), the glow-in-the-dark paint ($8), a pre-paying for race day pickup ($5), and then a “processing fee” ($12!). Compare that to March of Dimes, which was free to participate in, but of course, you could donate, as I did.

Anyhow, as for the event itself, I was a goofy man because I balked at paying $12 for Mediterranean food, and then stepped over to the pretzel truck, and paid $12 for a Cuban sandwich with a pretzel bun. Gosh, it was good. Phenomenal fries, too. At least I roughly worked off half the fries later!

My twin and I got there a few hours early just to get the lay of the land and such. I was actually planning on doing a whole separate post about this, and I still might, but we were both laughing that we just aren’t the types to let loose and dance (uh, without any alcohol helping, at least), but those around the main stage were definitely doing that. It was a great event for people-watching. One lady even came with an inflatable crocodile (or alligator?) attached to her back.

And there were a lot of people to watch because about 7,000 people were at this event, they announced. Holy cow.

I got the pink glow-in-the-dark paint to lather on my body since it was a night run. Unfortunately, it has to be essentially pitch black to see it, or if you’re at one of the designated selfie stations. Then, it was a pain in the booty to wash off later. Nonetheless, I have fun getting messy and getting into the “role,” as it were.

Now, the walk itself, while crowded, was fun. I enjoyed getting to see the inside of Coney Island, and at night, for the first time since I was a kid I believe. It felt great out, too, a breezy 60 degrees. Overall, we ended up actually going for a little more than four miles because of how the laps were designed.

Here are some of the photos I took (it is exceptionally difficult to take a photo of yourself glowing-in-the-dark):

On Sunday, I did the March of Dimes walk with the twin and my parents, which I previously went into more detail about the March of Dimes not-for-profit organization (for those who, like me until two seconds ago when I Googled it, the difference between a nonprofit and a not-for-profit, is that nonprofits are run like a business trying to earn a profit, and not-for-profits are considered “recreational organizations” that do not operate like a business with a goal of earning revenue, according to the United States Chamber of Commerce), and how they are organized around fighting for preemies, and mothers (particularly in maternity deserts) here. Now, interestingly, I’ve participated in the event for a number of years now, and donated just this morning, but I’ve never actually looked at their rating on Charity Navigator.

So, unlike SU2C, March of Dimes has a two-star rating, per Charity Navigator, with much of their rating being diminished by the financial categories, where they earn a 59.67 out of 100. That said, they receive a 97 out of 100 for accountability and transparency, so it’s not like the financials are a secret.

A two-star rating means that the charity needs improvement, and “meets or nearly meets industry standards, but underperforms most charities in its Cause.”

For the break-down, 75.3 percent of March of Dimes’ expenses go to programming, with 15.3 percent to fundraising, and 9.4 percent to administrative (which is only about a percentage higher on the latter than SU2C’s).

To put it another way, in fiscal year 2019, March of Dimes took in $129.6 million, and so, they spent $97.6 million on programming. In the break-down of program expenses, the vast majority (63 percent, or $60 million) goes toward community services, which is what I’ve previously blogged about (helping mothers and hospitals). The other chunk is to research and medical support (22 percent, or $22 million), and public and professional education (14 percent, or $13 million).

March of Dimes isn’t as efficient as SU2C, however: The organization spends about 15 cents to raise $1 in charitable contributions.

I have zero frame-of-reference for how much a CEO of a charity organization ought to make, or “deserves” to make, but the CEO of SU2C makes $423,580 (0.58 percent of total expenses), and the CEO of March of Dimes makes $527,287 (0.42 percent of total expenses).

I don’t know quite how to evaluate this; both seem like good charities to me in terms of where the money is going, but one is four-stars versus one being two-stars. It seems like where the bad rating for March of Dimes comes from is that three of their financial performance metrics receive a 0 out of 10, those being working capital ratio, program expense growth, and liabilities to assets.

I’m not smart enough to understand any of those categories, or why March of Dimes has zeroes in them. But, at least for my “confidence level,” which is what Charity Navigator aims to help, I feel confident donating to March of Dimes and its cause. I’m fine with the ratio of spending on programming to spending on administrative/fundraising.

As for the March of Dimes march itself, it was weirdly downsized this year! I’m not sure why that was, but the walk itself was shorter (usually we walk an actual 5K, and it takes you through Great American Ballpark where the Cincinnati Reds play), and there weren’t any food booths like usual. I would have thought with this being the first one back since the pandemic, they would have done a big shebang, but I guess not.

Nonetheless, it’s always nice, and humbling, to get out there and see the other families supporting their loved ones. Humbling, as for example, because we saw a t-shirt about a baby boy who actually weighed more than my twin at the time of his birth, and he didn’t make it. She did. I don’t know what roll of the universal dice caused that, and it isn’t a binary thing, obviously, but it’s humbling that we’re lucky to have her still with us, and that she made it through being a preemie. I wish for that family’s sake, he could have made it, too.

Again, because my twin and I are directionally challenged, we still ended up walking about four miles. So, eight miles, give or take, in a 12-hour timespan isn’t too shabby.

I didn’t take as many photos this morning for the March of Dimes walk, but here are a few (the big chair was fun!):

What causes are important to you, and do you cross-reference them with Charity Navigator?

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