Philanthropy on the running circuit

By Chris Morris
Chris Morris regularly writes for national outlets including CNBC.com, Fortune and Variety.
Posted on Oct 26, 2017

Running benefits the body in a number of ways. It can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, relieve stress, and help banish depression. But it can be just as healthy for your soul, too. 

As people prepare for the marathon on Nov. 5 in New York City, there are a number of charities that tie themselves directly to the running world — both this race and others — helping people in need while entrants earn their medals and t-shirts. 

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The trick, of course, is finding the right one for you. Whether you're looking to help the homeless in your area, combat a disease, or improve the lives of at-risk children, there's a charity out there to aid your favorite philanthropic cause. Need some guidance? Here's a look at some reputable running charities  ̶  and how they help others. 

Achilles International — Dick Traum, an above-the-knee amputee, began running in 1976 and quickly developed a passion for the sport. Seven years later, after completing a major marathon and realizing the impact it had on his life, he founded Achilles. 

With chapters in 65 locations in the United States and abroad, the group offers a community of support for athletes with disabilities (ranging from amputees to people who are blind to those who live their lives in a wheelchair), helping them train and boosting both their physical and emotional strength. It also offers special programs for veterans and children. Beyond working with some of the country's biggest marathons, it hosts the annual Hope & Possibility event, bringing together able-bodied runners and athletes with disabilities. 

Back on My Feet — Based in Philadelphia, this organization uses running as a tool to address the homeless situation in 12 major cities. The group recruits homeless people who are willing to commit to running at least three days per week. After they do so for 30 days, they're eligible for educational support, job training, and housing resources. Roughly 80 percent of the recruits make it to that next step. 

Since its start in 2007, Back on My Feet has helped over 6,000 homeless people; 1,500 of those have completed their GED and the program has resulted in 4,000 jobs. The group works with runners who both act as fundraisers and who volunteer to run with the recruits to help them commit to the program. 

Girls on the Run — Using running as a tool to teach young girls (in the third and eighth grades) how to pursue their dreams, Girls on the Run also encourages lifelong fitness habits and strives to build their self-confidence. 

The after-school program weaves emotional and social development lessons with regular fitness activities twice a week for roughly a three-month period. When the session ends, girls run in a noncompetitive 5K race to tangibly show them that you can build confidence by achieving a goal. Started in 1996 at a single school, the program now has 200 councils in 50 states. In 2015, it served over 185,000 girls. 

Fred's Team — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's athletic fundraising program, known as Fred's Team, has a single focus: Eliminate cancer. Runners who align with the organization choose which research area (out of the 50 the center studies) will benefit from the money they raise, rather than putting the money in a single pool. That's a sort of personalization few other running-charities offer. 

For many people, this is the most effective way to raise money for rare forms of the disease. It's also a major funding source for the Aubrey Fund, which focuses on pediatric cancer. Since it was founded in 1995, Fred's Team has raised more than $70 million. 

Team Andi — Mount Sinai Hospital is on the path of one of the nation's most famous road races, something that wasn't lost on Amy Knepper when her daughter Andi was born weighing only two pounds and forced to spend three months there. Today, Knepper runs a program supporting the health care facility. 

Participating teams (who raise at least $3,000) share in a four-month training program and run the big Big Apple race together, with the support of a vocal cheering section from the health care facility's staff. To date, Team Andi has raised enough to fund a room at the hospital and support the NICU staff as well as families that rely on its services today. 

Organization for Autism Research — OAR, as this group tends to be called, says running its "signature fundraising activity." Whether you join a team or run as an individual, you can donate your miles to autism research. And while the group has a calendar of races it sponsors, it also works with donors to incorporate local 5Ks or Ironman events. 

Unlike other autism charities, OAR's sole focus is applied research. The group says it actively seeks out studies that provide tangible results for people with autism and their loved ones. 

AKTIV Against Cancer — Operating on the belief that physical activity can help cancer patients, AKTIV (founded by famed Norwegian runner Grete Waitz and Helle Aanesen) has helped create 15 physical activity centers in cancer treatment facilities in Norway. 

Charity Miles — Want to raise money for your favorite charity even when you're not running a marathon or 5K? This app lets you fundraise as you walk the dog or clean the house. It works much like a pedometer would, tracking your movements. Users pick from 40 charities and corporate sponsors contribute a small amount per mile to that charity based on your movement. Over time, that can really add up. 

To date, Charity Miles has raised $2.5 million for groups including Stand Up to Cancer, the Alzheimer's Association, and Save the Children. 

Want to support a marathoner on November 5 in New York City? Sign up for MassMutual’s Adopt a Runner program — just one of the ways that we’re encouraging people to Live Mutual (#LiveMutual).

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