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Reverse Sponsorships: The Cost of Entrepreneurship

I have noticed a trend recently.  I have learned about some very creative businesses that are partnering with nonprofit groups to increase participation in their events in various cities across the country.  I am not so sure it is entirely altruistic, but it certainly seems to be effective.

I first heard of one of these events when my friend and fellow nonprofit blogger, author Michael Rosen, posted about the Zombie Fun Runs in his blog earlier this year. The Zombie runs charge participants a fee to run a gauntlet of the “undead” over a 5K obstacle course wearing flags similar to those worn by flag football players.  If the runners complete the race with their flags intact, they are eligible for prizes.  After the race, there is a big party with bands and refreshments.  Since zombies are big in popular culture at this time, it is a winning idea, and it has many people who participate as runners, zombies, and spectators.  Spectators pay to watch the event, so it generates even more income for the event.

The promotion company that puts on the Zombie Fun Run uses the American Red Cross as a benefiting organization.  It pays a flat fee to the local chapter of the Red Cross to use its name and logo on its advertising.  According to the person I contacted at the local chapter, the promoter pays $10,000 for this opportunity, and considering that it holds a dozen runs around the country, it is making a good contribution to a good organization, but when you find that the gross income for each these events can reach close to a million dollars, it seems a little paltry.  That large number is the gross amount, and putting on an event like this has to be pretty expensive.  The costs of permits, rentals, transportation, paying bands, and party supplies are expenses that take a chunk of that large amount.  Is the payment to the Red Cross just another expense necessary to increase participation?  It’s hard for me to say.

Portland will have another such event this weekend*.  Another event promoter, Round House Racing, will be holding the 5 K Foam Fest, an obstacle run through mud and foam.  It looks like it could be pretty messy and a lot of fun.

Like the Zombie run, this event will benefit the nonprofit Shared Hope International, in Vancouver, Washington. It is dedicated to ending human trafficking.  According to the organization, they will get a percentage of the money, rather than a flat fee.  SHI also informed me that the organizers are also encouraging participants to raise money for the organization.  I hope that the event is well attended, and the cause gets greater public support.

It is hard for me to say how I feel about this trend in fundraising.  Nonprofits are getting money donated for their programs, but it really doesn’t feel like philanthropy to me.  It seems that it is just the cost of doing business, and is a way to increase participation, whether as a runner or as a volunteer.  What do you think?


*This event took place over the weekend just before this blog was posted.

To read Michael Rosen’s original blog about the Zombie Fun Run, click the following link:   http://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/are-zombies-philanthropic/

Michael Rosen is the author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing which is recommended for those in the Development Field.  Don’t wait for the movie to come out.