Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are TNT Runners Curing Cancer?

As part of my continuing posts about why Team in Training is not a scam, I am going to write a couple of pieces about some good constructive criticism I saw out there about us. There were two comment in particular that were a little less caustic than some of the complaints I have seen about us Purple People. The first was this: "What does running have to do with finding a cure? The running is for yourself, it does not cure cancer - the only people helping the cause in the case of TNT are the donors."

True - running does not cure cancer. Nor does walking 60 miles in the Komen 3-Day. Would that it were that simple! In fact, when I am doing my fundraising, I actually emphasize that point to my potential donors. Without them, all I am doing is going for a long tiring run or walk. It is their donations and generosity that provides the ability for more research on cancer and potential cures, not me moving my feet. So there is a good bit of agreement on my part with that statement.

Where we differ is this: as I posted last week, there are many ways for non-profits to raise money. One of them, the one LLS uses with Team in Training and that many other organizations have imitated, is agreeing to do some kind of an endurance event and in return people will "sponsor" you by making a donation to the non-profit to support their mission. So while the running, cycling, and swimming in itself does not cure cancer, it indirectly inspires people to donate to that cause in support. We could argue whether or not they would have donated that same amount anyway even if you sat on the sofa with a TV clicker and a big bag of double-stuffed oreos instead of being up a 5:30 on a Saturday morning to run. I am guessing generally not, although I have no way to prove it. Maybe some would get a phone call or a flyer in the mail from LLS about its mission and be inspired to donate. But I rather doubt it. I get literally a dozen or more solicitations in the mail each week, and I don't even answer the phone anymore unless I recognize the number because of the barrage of calls requesting money. If I get an email solicitation from someone who I know is going to work their butt off to raise money for a good cause, I am more likely to check that out and donate.

Let's use my own case - in five TNT events and then the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure last fall, people have donated over $60,000 on behalf of my efforts. If I had never decided to go for it and see if I could do this - if as a cancer survivor I could do a marathon while asking people to donate (something that often feels uncomfortable) to a cause and being successful at it - how much of that $60,000 would have been donated anyway? How much would have been left on the table? Even if it was just half of it, that is $30,000 that got donated because I was willing to walk and run and ask. So while I acknowledge that it is the donors who are most important when it comes to helping the cause, I am not willing to say that they are "the only people helping the cause." That minimizes or negates the hard work of a lot of people, and I believe a good chunk of the money LLS receives through TNT would not arrive otherwise.

The other comment I saw that I fully agree with is along these lines: the commenter complained about people doing Team in Training telling him that "75% of your donation goes directly to cancer research." It is important for all of us doing TNT to remember that LLS has a number of different program areas. As the author of the comment wrote based on him checking LLS financial statements, the donations break down as follows:

Research - 25.2%
Patient / community Services - 27%
Public Health Education- 18.4%
Professional Education - 4.7%

Total - 75.3%

As I discussed here, the other 25% goes to the administrative and fundraising costs of LLS that any non-profit has.

Therefore, if you are doing fundraising for LLS through Team in Training, just remember that not all of the mission is funding research. 75% of donations go towards the mission, but not to research. Maybe we tend to over-emphasize the research components.

So are those of us doing Team in Training curing cancer through our running? Well, not directly, of course. But I maintain that we are a part of the solution by being the catalyst for people to donate to the cause of cancer research and patient support and advocacy. If I live long enough to see that all cancers are curable or at least manageable, I know I will feel that I played my own small part in making this happen - through my running and walking, through my fundraising efforts, and through the many direct financial donations that I have made to various organizations.

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