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Is it time for a new type of charity race?

October 6, 2011

Race for Life is looking for a sponsor. Not because Mary from accounts is walking 5k around a park in a pink t-shirt clutching a jogger’s water bottle lest she get dehydrated through exertion (although she would like you to sponsor her, because remember she did pitch in a fiver when you ran that marathon). No, after ten years Cancer Research and Tesco are parting company, and now Race for Life needs a new corporate sponsor to continue putting on events up and down the country.

Now, I don’t know if this is just a London thing or if the advertising has been country-wide, but all this summer Race for Life has been running high-profile adverts with celebrity endorsement claiming that the number of race entries is significantly down. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the advert:

This surely begs the question of whether demand for these sorts of events is waning (and if not, that also begs a question about the honesty of the advertising campaign). So, what exactly does Race for Life offer its entrants?

  • A women-only event
  • A 5k or 10k walk/jog/run
  • A ‘free’ tshirt posted in advance of the race
  • Sponsorship forms, etc.

Register early and it’ll cost you £10 to enter, but (as most people will) register closer to the date of your chosen event and you’re looking at something around the £15 mark. This covers the costs of holding the event, so sponsorship money raised is the only cash that goes towards Cancer Research’s work (hence Mary from accounts and her sponsorship form).

But Race for Life operates in a competitive environment. There are thousands of other races taking place around the country, and since only the money raised through sponsorship goes to the charity why should the runners choose Race for Life? After all, Park Run holds free 5k races every Saturday in parks across the country.

The problem as far as I see it is that Race for Life provides a very bad service for its runners:

  • The courses aren’t officially measured, which means that the distances are a little random and often shorter than as advertised. Although this isn’t really a problem for the typical Race for Life crowd, it cheapens the sponsorship element.
  • No results are published. In fact, results aren’t even recorded.

Most club races typically cost around the same as Race for Life to enter, and most club races raise money for the club or a local cause. These races make money, despite shelling out on extra expenses such as official course measurement, timing, publishing results, etc. Although the effort that goes into organising these races may not be scaleable (volunteers can only give so much time and effort), it shows that Race for Life isn’t providing particularly good value for the cause it’s designed to raise money for. (For example, sending t-shirts through the post must cost a fortune compared to race finishers picking them up in the finishing funnel at the end of the run.)

So, if we need a dedicated brand of races, what should they do to set themselves apart from the measured and timed races that are organised by clubs across the country? What are the essential things that a race organiser needs to provide in order to appeal to all kinds of runner?



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