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Events — October 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Color Me Bad



Last weekend I took part in an event called Color Me Rad. It’s a 5K run where throughout the course brightly coloured cornstarch is thrown at you. It’s a fairly frivolous event– I ran it with my wife and six friends and we all had a blast– but a writer from the Albatross has pointed out that it’s a little misleading. In fact, Allison Leonard goes so far as to call it a scam.

In her critique she points out a few things, the most damning of which is how little goes to charity. The event is organized by a for profit company which shares the name of the event, Color Me Rad, and partners with a local charity in each city. (She cites a few other organizations that do similar runs– the Color Run and Run or Dye– but most of her article focuses on Color Me Rad.) These charities are required to recruit hundreds of volunteers to help organize the event, and in return they get a pittance– in one case the charity received no more than 3.33% of the profits. While I am a little more open to a for-profit company making money than Ms. Leonard is, I do think that’s a bad deal for the charity.

Another unfortunate thing about the Color Me Rad run was that throughout the time I was there I only once heard a reference to the benefitting charity– in this caseĀ Keep A Breast— which came from the “pump up” guy who shouted from the stage, “Who likes boobies?” Which is fine, I guess, but it didn’t give me much context for the supposed goal of the run.

Now, let’s step back a bit. The hyperbole on the Color Me Rad site (including a ticker of fake quotes that I particularly like) is just that: hyperbole, and they know it. I don’t think the organizers of Color Me Rad really think their event is life-changing, but they do think it’s a lot of fun, and as a former participant I can vouch for them and say that they’re right.

The problem is that they’re billing themselves as a charitable event, particularly given the context of a 5K race. Has anyone ever heard of a 5K run that wasn’t for charity? We’ve been culturally educated to believe that if you’re participating in a frivolous and short run, you’re doing good. This is the problem I have with Color Me Rad and its ilk. It’s a for profit company disguising itself as a nonprofit, or at least a benefactor of nonprofits. And this isn’t the first event like this do have the same issues, but it seems to be becoming an increasing problem. In the long run this just looks bad on nonprofits, who are the ones that should be the most upset, not the participants– who are just having a good time and trying to do a little bit of good.

This isn’t to say that charities shouldn’t partner with for profit event organizers. In fact, I’d encourage it. Charities need to focus on charitable work, and if they can contract other organizations to do their fundraising for them at a reasonable rate, they should do it. They just need to ensure that they’re getting a good deal, that the partnership is equal and not subservient, and that their message is conveyed.


  • To say that an event is charitable should mean that a significant benefit is accruing to a charity — either in cash or increased awareness that will result in support, now and in the future.
    Special events like lotteries are in the grey area of philanthropy as in some cases the actual direct return to charity is minimal.
    The `Weekend to End Breast Cancer“ was run out of Winnipeg because over 60% went to expenses. The Vancouver event just stopped.
    Full and transparent disclosure of full costs must be required, no demanded so that we, the potential donors can make a choice.

  • I think we need to start by having a discussion around what we expect from charitable events vs what we should expect. I’m not sure if we can set a clear benchmark around the percentage that should go to charity. It’s likely much more than 3%, but is it more than 40%? I don’t know.

    Is it better to spend $2,000 to raise $20,000, or spend $600,000 to raise $400,000? The first number looks less wasteful but I think most charities would prefer $400,000 in their pocket than $20,000. (See Dan Pallotta’s “Uncharitable” for more on this.)

    At the end of the day I want charities to get a good deal out of these events, and I think that can sometimes get overlooked in the goal of “having fun for a good cause.”