Do walkathons (or the sponsors) give a crap anymore how far you actually walk?

A funny segment on the Daily Show about walkathons reminded me about something that I’ve been meaning to ask. Do any modern-day walkathon administrators (or the pledge sponsors) give a crap anymore how far the participants actually walk?

Let me provide a little backstory. I remember when the concept of the walkathon was brand new, in the 1960s or the very early 1970s. My sister, who was in grade school or HS at the time, signed up as a walker for big name charity walkathon. She got a pledge sheet that asked sponsors to donate a certain amount per mile that she walked, with a maximum of, say, 20 miles. When she did the walk, there were checkpoints every mile to certify her progress; they would stamp her tally sheet like she was visiting the Russian Sector of Berlin after WWII or something. And when it was over, she only got paid for the miles she walked.

These early walkathons made no bones about the fact that the amount a sponsor would be required to pay was directly proportional to the amount the participant suffered. This, in my opinion, captures the full spirit of anything ending in “-athon,” and is how it should be.

But is this how it’s done today? My (admittedly modest) experience is that it’s not. You pledge a big fat amount to some schmo in the office, they show up and walk a few token miles, maybe someone certifies that they did it or maybe not, then your coworker asks you for your lump of money.

Am I wrong? Does anyone do it the old fashioned way anymore?

Part of the walkathons deal is that the organization wants the visibility. It’s advertising to have a bunch of people out walking. The further you walk(or the more time you walk. The larger the possibility of you being seen is.

I’ve been involved in a few walks that involved people walking around a hightschool track. These seemed kinda pointless to me, but it was good exercise so I stuck around. They didn’t seem to car if anyone actualy walked at all.

Most of these I’ve been asked for lately have asked for the money up front. The participant (or their parent who works with me) says that they are going to walk the ten mile distance, and ask me for that amount.

I’ve never bothered to ask for documentation proving that their child actually walked the whole 10 miles, or for any refund if they quit early. Nor have I heard of anyone else doing this. I think it’s just a donation to the cause, not really related to how far they walk. I suppose some very honest kids would feel pressure if they didn’t make it the whole way, but if they offered me a refund I’d just tell them to keep my contribution.

In some cases (AIDS bike-a-thons, ofr example), I’ve noticed that the overhead and support efforts sometimes use up a huge amount (over 50%) of the contributions. I’ve sometimes suggested that I’d give them a contribution if they agreed to stay home, and not go on the bike ride, and not use up so much in overhead expenses!

I don’t know, but I seem to have the business model backwards. Every spring when we have the Walk for Hunger here in Boston, I walk the 20 miles and then usually manage to drum up a very meager amount of cash. :frowning:

When I walked a marathon for the Leukemia Society in 1995 (the Dublin Marathon–fantastic experience), I didn’t ask for an amount per mile, but just a total amount, whatever they wanted to give. I finished (took over 5 hours, due to a nasty hamstring cramp and an icky blister on my heel that slowed me down). It was certainly easier to ask for a sum certain rather than an amount that depended on how far I went, plus it was better for the Leukemia Society, because they knew how much money they were getting up front. Also, when I got money from co-workers, they could apply to our company for matching gifts, which effectively doubled my corporate contributions.

I work for a not-for-profit, and no, we don’t care how far you walk. We don’t even care if you walk at all.

Try to look at it from our point of view. We have a budget of about half a million for the Capital District in NY. From this half million we have to pay our salaries, etc. Then we have to pay all of our grants, programs, and everything else we do good for the community.

Our expenses are supposed to be at 5% or less. So if you all come we have to feed you, entertain you, get you walking, and get you out of there without complaints. We get everything donated but every minute we’re on the phone with Hannaford or whatever we are taking time away from raising money for the cause. And no matter what some of it costs money.

We are here to save babies. That is the beginning and the end. Rightfully all of our attention is focused on it. We have a great big walkathon because everyone wants to get something for their buck, even if it’s just a morning of entertainment.

We shortened our walks because people kept complaining they didn’t have a whole day to give us. In the end, if you help our cause, that’s what’s most important anyway.

I’ve thought about starting a thread entitled “Ask the not-for-profit” employee.

Well, look at it from the point of view of myself, the potential donor.

I get hit up for charities all the time–by friends and co-workers, by mail, by phone, by spam. Some of them are legitimate, some are borderline, some are scams. I don’t have time to research them all, and I can’t contribute even to all of the legitimate ones, or I’d be a charity case myself.

So how do I decide when to contribute? When a friend ir co-worker volunteers to perform a difficult physical task in return for the money, he or she becomes a powerful witness that the charity is worthwhile and legitimate. If a person is willing to walk 20 miles, chances are he or she has researched the cause and finds it legitimate, and assuming I respect the person, I’m willing to piggyback on his or her research.

If the person is just out for “a morning of entertainment”, that witnessing is lost.

And if the charity doesn’t care enough to validate that the task was performed, they send a signal that they don’t value the “witnessing” aspect either; that I should contribute to their charity instead of another “just because”. But from my POV, besieged by endless equally worthy solicitations, the world doesn’t work that way.

In the short run, tying my donation to a meaningless physical exercise seems cruel. “Gee, your tootsies petered out after 12 miles, so we’ll only save 12/20 as many babies as we would have otherwise.”

But in the long run, it’s the only way to preserve the imprimatur of legitimacy conferred by people who are willing to make a physical sacrifice for a cause. I respectfully suggest that we go back to the old way of Checkpoint-Charlie style validation.

Not true at all. It all depends on the nfp. The other “problem” we have - it’s not really a problem - is our walks are almost 85 % comprised of one thing… Young mothers. So we must cater to young mothers, whose kids only have a limited attention span, who don’t have all day to walk with us, and who don’t
care about the distance.

On the other hand, Lung, or Heart? Hell yeah those should go to the the Checkpoint things. Because that is symbolic of something, that they are attempting to make themselves healthier.

For us we want every baby to be born healthy but unfortunately every baby is not. Many children cannot walk far or are not in good enough health…yet it makes a big deal when a child still comes with its mother to the Walk and the mother walks the three or four miles (or less) with the baby.

What difference does it make if the person is “out for a morning of entertainment” or actually “making a physical sacrifice for a cause”?

If it’s all done in the interest of collecting money for a charity I’ll base my donation on what the charity is, not by how dedicated the walker is.

What do I care if they walked 20 miles or 1 mile? All I care is that the money is going to the cause they represented. I’m not going to get all stingy when they say “Pay up, I just walked 20 miles” and respond “Prove it, yes I want to donate money but I need you to jump through hoops for it first.”

If they’re going to block off major trafic arteries for it (as they do to a section of Queens Boulevard for the Breast Cancer Walk at least once a year in Queens) they’d better as hell be caring that people are doing the walking. Otherwise, I’m even more pissed off about the detours I have to make than I already am.

I’ve never understood this whole concept, regardless of whether you make them walk and verify the mileage.
What in the world is the point of the walking? If I want to give money to Charity A, why would I require you to walk 20 miles and earn it? That just seems wierd to me, like it’s not really a donation. More like you’re offering to do something to entertain me and you’re going to give the money you earn to charity. There’s something very Scrooge-like about the whole concept: I’ll give you money for your charity, sure, but you gotta dance for me!
Now, if you say that the walking serves a social purpose for the walkers, that’s strange in a different way. So now you want me to pay your way into a social event so you can go walk and hobnob with friends and use the money that the charity spends to put on such an event.
I can’t fathom how this is better than just soliciting donations. It’s hard to beleive that someone would respond to a request for a donation by saying “No, I don’t want to just donate to this worthy cause. But if you want to go walk in the hot sun for a few hours and socialize and use up some of the charity’s money, I’m in for $20 a mile.”
When I’m asked to pledge to a walkathon, I decide if i want to give money to the charity or not. If I do, I write a check and that’s it. I have no interest in this convoluted, pointless system of walking.

But in that case, why do the whole “thon” thing at all? Why not just ask for donations; why make it a “thon” thing?

Much like LemonPledge, I’ve often wondered what the point of those "thon"s are:
Will you give me money in return for me devoting a lot of effort and time to some pointless exercise of no benefit to you or anyone else?
But Freddy the Pig’s explanation of the practice makes at least some sense.

Good question. I know the whole “walk” things make money because people do like to attend for the social aspect. I think the whole pledging-by-mile thing is going the way of the dodo however.
The humane society in Minneapolis has an annual “Walk for Animals” dog walk that makes a ton of money and is more of a huge social event. People pay to walk and also bring in donations they have collected. They don’t do the “by-mile” pledges.

In my experience with walkathons, it was possible to receive pledges both on the per-lap level and on the flat fee level, but that virtually everyone who ever pledged to me did so on the flat fee level. It was conducted not based on distance, but over a period of time. There were quite a few volunteers out to check how much we walked, and we had to turn in our stamped card afterwards in order to have the fees counted.

In short, the administrators seemed to have cared about it, but the pledgers did not.

Because people don’t, generally, just hand out money. They really don’t. They demand an event, but one that fits their exacting standards.

From what I’ve read here these modern-day walkathons have so thoroughly distorted the original roles and relationships of the three parties (walker, sponsor, charity) that the charities should no longer call their events “walkathons,” IMO.

Let me explain my thinking. So far posters have described the act of walking as “pointless” (said in at least three different posts), “meaningless physical exercise,” “jump[ing] through hoops,” etc.

But the walking is pointless only if it’s not tied to the pledge promise. When my sister walked, you could have asked her, “Why are you walking to 72nd Street? Walking won’t cure cancer.” She would have said, “It might, because it will give medical researchers eight dollars that they need.” If you then asked her, “Okay, but why walk to 92nd Street after that?” she’d say, “Because it will give them eight more dollars on top of that.” And so on and so on.

You see, it was the pledges that gave purpose to an inherently pointless act.

Now, it appears, all that has been thrown out the window. My act of sponsoring my sister is no longer an endorsement of her devotion to a cause, it is an endorsement of my (supposed) devotion to that cause; she has been reduced to a mere saleswoman-missionary-nag who will be rewarded with a t-shirt and a box lunch and a concert for her persistance.

I have no doubts that the modern system is far better at raising money, keeping the troops (I refuse to call them walkers) entertained and jazzed, and making the donors feel big-hearted because they’re not nickel-and-diming the walkers. But whatever these events may be, they are not walkathons.