Virtual Strides has directly donated more than $426,000 to dozens of great charities and has helped raise an additional $358,000 more for charity through our Partners Program since our first event in January, 2015. The response to our business has been overwhelmingly positive, with tens of thousands of people participating in our virtual races and applauding our efforts. As support for our site has continued to grow, so has the number of people who either don’t understand what we are doing or are against what we are doing for whatever reason. Rather than continuing to answer the same questions over and over via our social media accounts and through email, this page is an attempt to address the most common questions and concerns.
Virtual Strides is not a Charity
First, as is explained in our FAQ, Virtual Strides is not a charity. We are a for-profit small business. The difference between our small business and 99% of other small businesses is that ours is based around the idea of raising money for various charities. Not only do our events provide motivation for people to better themselves, but they give people a way to contribute to worthy causes while working toward their own personal goals. The vast majority of businesses (large or small) give little or nothing to charity, and that is their right and their choice. I would never criticize a charitable individual or a company for “not giving enough” to charity, as I believe every bit helps. That said, I do think the world would be a much better place if all businesses were at least a little bit philanthropic.
Reason for Concern
This is not to say that every company who claims to be raising money for charity is legitimate, and people are right to be skeptical and do their homework. There are individuals and businesses who host virtual races and pretend to donate money to charity but actually don’t (I have heard stories about some scammers not even sending out the medals people paid for). There are also those who promise to donate some unstated “portion of proceeds” or a “percentage of profits” to unnamed charities. This practice is not limited to virtual races either. The very popular Spartan Race was recently criticized for donating less than 33 cents per participant to charity after charging $70-$100 entry fees for their event. We find this behavior deplorable, and this is not how we operate.
At Virtual Strides, we follow the the Better Business Bureau’s cause-related marketing best practice of clearly stating exactly how much of each virtual race registration fee will be donated to the featured charity. $5 per registration is the amount of money we feel we can afford to donate and remain in business, so we can continue to raise money for different charities each and every month. We donate at least $5 for each and every registration, including discounted ones and even the registrations we give away during contests on our Facebook page. We give more when we can and we always round up, but $5 per registration is our bare-minimum donation.
Some people seem to be under the impression that we donate $5 from each registration fee and pocket the rest of it, but of course that isn’t how things work. Like any other business, we have several fixed and variable expenses to overcome each month before there is even an opportunity for us to realize a profit. Our very large, high-quality medals are not inexpensive, especially after factoring in licensing/design fees, production set up costs, and the cost of shipping hundreds of pounds of them to us. We then incur the expense of individually packing and shipping the medals out to participants. We have to pay merchant account fees for each registration, taxes, programming/website expenses, advertising expenses, and so on and so forth. We also have a number of fixed monthly costs (like the rent for our office space, for example), and we have to absorb the sometimes very large expense of leftover medals when we order too many. We’ve actually lost money after several of our events when our total revenue didn’t exceed our total expenses, but we refuse to punish the race’s featured charity when this happens by only donating “a percentage of profits” like some organizations do. We always make the promised donation.
Efficiency and the Bottom Line
Are our virtual races the most efficient way to donate dollars to charity? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean they are not an effective way to raise funds for charity.
Whether we are able to raise $2,500 or $25,000 for a given charity, that is $2,500 or $25,000 they wouldn’t have if Virtual Strides didn’t exist. And that’s not even counting the intangible benefits from how much awareness we spread for the causes each of our featured charities champion and all the additional donations people make directly as well. As a side note, be wary of anyone who suggests you make additional donations through their business instead of directly to the charity. There is absolutely no need for someone to act as a middle-man between you and a charity when you want to make a direct cash donation. All this accomplishes is making your donation not tax-deductible, and you’ll never know for sure that it reached the intended charity.
Yes, we could reduce our expenses by producing low quality medals and we could spend much less than we currently do on advertising, but that doesn’t mean there would be more money available to be donated to charity at the end of each month. In fact, the opposite would happen: Far fewer people would even know our events existed and the people we did reach would be less interested in the lower quality medals. So while we could afford to give a larger percentage of each registration fee to the charity, the total donation would be much less.
Dan Pallotta did a great TED Talk about this, called “The way we think about charity is dead wrong” – It’s worth the watch.
You Can Always Choose to Not Participate
If you don’t feel that our $5 per registration (minimum) donation is enough and if you aren’t interested in receiving a medal, then simply don’t participate in our virtual races. Donating to the charity directly is literally suggested in our FAQ: “Our virtual runs both help spread awareness and raise funds for worthwhile causes, but if you are looking to maximize your contribution to a specific charity, by all means, please donate to them directly.” But whatever you do, please don’t complain that we are not donating enough and then donate $0 to the charity, because I promise you that the charities we feature would rather you participate in our event and get a nice medal for yourself while earning $5 for them than they would want you to not participate and earn them $0.
If you’ve read all of this and are still against what we are doing, that is OK. We can agree to disagree. We know we are making a difference for the charities we are supporting, and we are proud of the work we are doing.
Virtual Strides Founder