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July 3, 2020
Cancelled Boston Marathon to Impact Nonprofit Fundraising
Marathon Cancelled

May 31, 2020 — The Boston Athletic Association, a nonprofit based in Boston that organizes the annual Boston Marathon, last week cancelled this year's race for the first time in its 124 years, after earlier postponing it from April 20 to Sept. 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move likely to affect fundraising plans for numerous Massachusetts nonprofits.

Last year's race helped generate a record $39 million for charities.

However, official and unofficial fundraising efforts, including those for the John Hancock Non-Profit Program and BAA Charity Program, have raised $27 million to date, according Ana Senior, head of public relations for John Hancock.

The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) also announced it will hold a virtual Boston Marathon, including a virtual race, in September.

Virtual offerings during Sept. 7-14 will include exclusive panel discussions, champions interviews, and a downloadable Boston Marathon toolkit that includes signature race elements such as a printable finish line, and winner's breaktape.

Participants in the virtual 2020 Boston Marathon will be required to complete the 26.2 mile distance within a six-hour time period and provide proof of timing to the BAA. All athletes who complete the virtual race will receive an official Boston Marathon program, participant t-shirt, medal, and runner’s bib.

During the 2019 Boston Marathon, participants who ran on behalf of 297 nonprofit organizations raised a record $38.7 million for charity, about six percent, or $2 million, more than the year before.

Whether nonprofits raising funds via the virtual Boston Marathon will meet last year's level is an open question. Experience garnered during the previous few months, as nonprofits have reconfigured events, festivals, other gatherings, and fundraisers often into virtual events, show that virtual events often attract fewer participants and raise fewer funds.

For example, Project Bread, an East Boston-based nonprofit, the only statewide anti-hunger organization in Massachusetts, this month raised $1.05 million via its annual Walk for Hunger, held virtually due to the coronavirus crisis in place of the in-person event set for May 3.

Project Bread originally sought to raise $2 million from 8,000 participants for the 52nd annual Walk for Hunger, but lowered its participation goal to 1,200 walkers while maintaining the $2 million fundraising target. Approximately 1,650 people registered to participate, with fundraising continuing through June 30.

Friends of the Public Garden, a Boston nonprofit that advocates for protecting and improving the Public Garden, Boston Common, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall, cancelled its Green & White Ball, foregoing the $700,000 it had expected to raise before the pandemic hit.

In contrast, Horizons for Homeless Children, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to alleviate the stress of homelessness among children and their families, which shifted its annual major fundraising gala to a virtual event on May 1, attracted 308 donors to raise $1,038,400, beating its $1 million goal. Last year's event attracted 490 people and raised $108,000 more, but had significantly higher costs associated with it.

While traditional and even virtual galas may be taking a back seat as nonprofits scramble on numerous fronts to respond to the pandemic, including furloughing and laying off employees, many have embarked on short-term campaigns to meet specific needs. For example, Boston Arts Academy Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds from private sources to augment the school's budget, recently launched a special fundraising campaign to raise $200,000 to help the 103 seniors prepare for college.

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