Denver nonprofits race to fundraise

Races like the Colfax Marathon help raise awareness for causes

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Crossing the finish line into City Park after running a Colfax race is only half the battle for the 220 participating nonprofits — it’s also a marathon fundraising session.

The nonprofit Colfax Marathon Partnership has been holding the race event in Denver for the last 14 years. But 11 years ago, the organizers started to bring in charity partners for the first time, CEO Andrea Dowdy said.

Under that program, the Colfax Marathon Partnership invites nonprofits of any size to to sign up for free as charity partners. Runners, in turn, can sign up to run for a charity when they register for any of the events, which include a 5K, a 10 mile race, relay races as well as a half and full marathon. The nonprofits also can recruit runners for their cause and set fundraising goals for them.

One such runner, Eric Gutknecht, CEO of Continental Sausage, Inc., uses Colfax as an opportunity to get his whole office raising money for Denver Kids, Inc. Gutknecht is a board member with Denver Kids, a nonprofit which focuses on child education. The company has been participating in the raise for the last five years. This year Continental Sausage put together 12-13 relay teams to run at Colfax, he said. He added that it’s also a good way to bring the office together while also looking at fitness. Staff at his company enjoy participating as well.

“They love the experience. It’s good for philanthropy and culture,” Gutknecht said. “It connects my passion for exercise and athletisim to philanthropy.”

Gutknecht said his office starts emailing people about donations for Denver Kids and their Colfax racing teams as early as November each year. He estimated that his office raised between $15,000 and $20,000 for Denver Kids.

The first year Colfax added charity partners, 41 signed up, Dowdy said. Although Colfax tends to work with local organizations, a few national organizations with local offices, such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Association, also joined.

For the past few years, Colfax has been working with about 200 charity partners. In recent years the nonprofits have raised an average of $500,000 each year in total Dowdy said.

“We want to give back to the community as a nonprofit and that’s why we have that open-door policy,” Dowdy said. “Sometimes its the tiniest charities that raise the most money.”

Megan Monsees, a volunteer with the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, worked with Colfax this year to register runners across several of the event’s races, including the relay and half marathon. Monsees said several of their racers have run the event for the society before, but its also a way to gain new donors.

Huntington’s Disease, which is an inherited condition where nerve cells in the brain break down over time, is rare, Monsees said. Often people participating in the society’s 5K race at Denver’s Central Park in September know someone with the disease. It makes for a smaller pool of donors. This year, about 20,000 runners signed up for Colfax races throughout the weekend of May 18. Being able to raise awareness with those runners from across Colorado is key.

“With that many people in one place, and that many people that are in for different causes that are important to them, it’s getting that awareness out there,” Monsees said. “You reach a community outside of those directly impacted.”

Organizing a race can also be cost-prohibitive for some nonprofits, Dowdy said. To hold a race, organizers need to apply for an event permit. The city also requires fencing, security, portable bathrooms and cleanup for an event.

“You need a good number of runners to make that work,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that go into your financial model.”

Tagging along with an event that is already planned, such as Colfax, can help ease the burden for some nonprofits. There’s also tiers set up for extra incentives: having at least five racers in the event gets a nonprofit a free tent in the charity area. More racers also means more opportunities for money. Colfax Marathon Partnership donates $100,000 through the relay event. Winners of the marathon relay pick a charity to donate their prize money to, Dowdy said.

Over the years, Dowdy said she has seen different organizations tackle fundraising at Colfax in different ways. For some, it’s just a fun way to engage with the community and raise awareness for a cause. For other nonprofits its a time to raise funds for their own events and programming.

“You can be creative when you’re looking at opportunities,” Dowdy said. “It’s been really fun over the years to see all the ways people use running.”

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