It's the last part of the tongue-twisting "Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh Marathon & 1/2 Marathon presented by WRAL benefiting The V Foundation for Cancer Research" that's sticking in the craw of copy editor, writer and avid marathoner R.L. Bynum. The phrase "benefiting The V Foundation" is part of the event's name: it's reasonable to assume The V Foundation for Cancer Research gets some of the proceeds from the Competitor Group, Inc.-owned race, which was held April 12th in Raleigh. Race advertisements, press releases and banners reinforced this perception.
That's misleading. And it's going to change.
As Bynum pointed out in an article after last year's inaugural race, citing a News & Observer article, "CGI didn't donate a dime to the charity. CGI's only sacrifice was giving free race entry to the 465 (of around 12,500 total) runners who raised at least $500 for the V Foundation. Those runners raised, according to a story posted on the race's website last week, more than $300,000 for the V Foundation."
CGI doesn't donate to The V Foundation; they merely provide a platform by which runners can raise their own money. This year, runners who registered for Team V got a free entry into the RnR Raleigh race if they raised $750. The race website's charity page does not make clear that CGI would not be donating to The V Foundation, nor that cancer research would only receive money from those runners who signed up for Team V and took on the task of fundraising personally. The only part of their statement that even hints at this distinction reads:
When we visit Raleigh, we strive to leave behind lasting change by giving our participants the chance to make a real difference by raising money for local and national causes they care about.
It's vague at best about the fact that the for-profit race corporation, CGI, will not be giving up any of its profits. And it would be rare for a potential registrant to even dig this far into the website.
An article in this week's News & Observer makes the source of the donations clear: "Team V members had to raise at least $750 each to be part of the Cary-based foundation's team. The V Foundation does not receive any money [from] any other part of the race."
Racing for charity is extremely common, but most of the organizations putting on races are nonprofits and actually do donate directly to the named charity, like this Autism 5K in Minneapolis. The race organizers give a portion of their profits to local families with autistic children and to research.
In other cases, like the Twin Cities Marathon, runners can choose to fundraise for one of the marathon's community charity partners as a means to a guaranteed entry, like at the Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh. (I should have noted that Twin Cities Marathon also donates directly from their proceeds to Youth Fitness Partners—MIGIZI, Girls on the Run, Bolder Options, and YWCA of Minneapolis—and to local distance running development project Team USA Minnesota.) The notable difference in charity fundraising programs is that, while Twin Cities Marathon offers this opportunity, none of their promotional materials use familiar phrases "proceeds" or "benefits." It's perfectly clear that the only way any of the charities listed will receive money is if a runner signs up to personally fundraise.
A V Foundation spokesperson said that their agreements with fundraisers vary from event to event.
"The V Foundation was chosen by CGI as the benefiting charity in Raleigh. I don't know what their criteria for choosing V Foundation was, nor how they came to word their promotional material," she said, noting that the V Foundation is happy with their relationship with CGI, as runners have raised nearly $500,000 for cancer research in the two years the race has been held.
CGI, based in San Diego, owns race events in 30 locations worldwide. Most, like the one in Chicago, do not use the word "benefiting" in the name of the race, but that varies as well. There's the "Rungevity Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis 1/2 Marathon presented by the Quinn Family Foundation." The banner for "Rock 'n' Roll Los Angeles Halloween 1/2 Marathon" contains the phrase "benefiting the ASPCA," but that phrase isn't contained in the actual name of the event. Then there's the "Rock 'n' Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon & Cunningham Seawall 10K benefiting the John Volken Academy," which is a mouthful and, again, misleading.
It does seem that R.L. Bynum takes issue with CGI over more than just misleading information. As a large, for-profit organization, CGI has waltzed into many cities, thrown its weight around and stepped on local toes in the process. The Wall Street Journal reported on hard feelings when CGI used their considerable resources to establish a Brooklyn half-marathon with thousands of entrants, something small local organizations had been trying for years to accomplish. Bynum speculated that runner disenchantment with CGI's packaged events and lack of transparency caused a drop-off in numbers in the second RnR Raleigh event—the number of marathon finishers down 41 percent from last year, with half-marathon finishers down 36 percent.
Thanks to all the negative coverage, Competitor Group, Inc. has acknowledged how misleading its branding has been, and says it will change its language to make clearer that the company itself does not donate money.
"We are moving away from the word benefit or benefiting," said CGI spokesman Dan Cruz, "and have already transitioned to the term 'featured charity' with our partners in Seattle, Denver and Brooklyn. While placing the name of the benefiting charity in the title of the event has long been standard industry practice, we are working proactively to ensure that there is no confusion for our runners or community partners."
photo credit: Flickr