Charity Walk Season Gets Underway

By Meghan Bard

As summer fast approaches, so does the season for charity walks.

Friends, neighbors, and coworkers will solicit money and participation for various events in Massachusetts that benefit a multitude of charitable organizations.

But this begs the question: What is the best organization to give your time and money to?

Some of the major walks in the area are the March of Dimes WalkAmerica, Project Bread's Walk for Hunger, the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's MS Walk, and the Avon Foundation's Walk for Breast Cancer.

Based on the annual reports and figures quoted by officials of these nonprofit organizations, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports spending the least amount of the money they raise on administrative costs.

Steve Sookikian, director of communications, said 85 percent of the money the National Multiple Sclerosis Society raises goes toward their mission of combating the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis through education, advocacy, support, and research.

Project Bread reports spending about 80 percent on charitable efforts, compared to 20 percent for administrative costs. However, 100 percent of the money people raise at the Walk for Hunger goes to feed people at emergency food programs, which include pantries, soup kitchens, and food distribution centers, according to Celia Alicata, senior communications associate for Project Bread.

The American Heart Association reported it spent 21.8 percent on administration and fundraising efforts in 2005. The association's policy, though, is for administrative costs for each event to never exceed 10 percent of what is raised during that event.

The March of Dimes’ spending breaks down at 75 percent going toward charitable efforts, and 25 percent going toward administration and fundraising.

Spending the most on administrative costs and fundraising efforts is the Avon Foundation. Seventy-one percent of the money raised by the nonprofit goes to its charitable efforts. But Susan Heaney, director of communication for the Avon Foundation, said she hopes that number will go up.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society held its MS Walk Saturday in Worcester. Last year, 650 walkers participated, and 839 were registered to walk this year, according to Sookikian. The MS Walk raised $175,000 last year, and Sookikian said they could hit $200,000 this year.

Sookikian said the society has given more than $14 million toward work on MS research in the area at hospitals such as UMass Memorial in Worcester; Brigham and Women's, Dana Farber, and Beth Israel in Boston; and Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire.

The Project Bread's Walk for Hunger takes place in Boston, on Sunday, May 7. About 40,000 people take part in the annual walk each year. Walkers can register and get donations online at

"We raise $3 million each year at the walk, and all of the money goes to funding 400 emergency food programs in 136 different communities across Massachusetts," said Alicata.

The American Heart Association's Heart Walk happens in Worcester on April 29. Walkers can choose between 1, 2.5, and 5 mile walks, which all begin at City Hall. Registration starts at 9 a.m., and the walk begins at 10 a.m., rain or shine.

Money raised by the walk goes toward medical research and education efforts. The American Heart Association's goal is to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke, and risk by 25 percent by the year 2010. About 2,500 people are expected to participate this year, according to the Heart Walk.

The American Heart Association has $1.7 million tied up in seven programs in the Worcester area.

The March of Dimes WalkAmerica comes to Fitchburg on April 30. The five-mile walk begins at Kmart in the Twin City Plaza and will take place rain or shine. Registration starts at 8:00 a.m., and the walk begins at 9:00 a.m. Walk officials are expecting about 250 walkers.

Walkers raised $54,800 last year. Officials are hoping to raise $57,000, Kady said. Money raised by the walk will be spent to support research and programs to find out how to prevent premature births.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston will be on May 20 and 21. The 39-mile walk takes place over two days.

The walk began in 2003 and in its three years, 6,200 people have participated and raised about $12 million dollars, according to Heaney. "We fund research and investigators in all sorts of novel directions, and at the same time fund the actual care," Heaney said. Research money is at work at hospitals such as Boston Medical Center and Cambridge HealthAlliance.

"The Avon Foundation funds nationally, but we make it a funding priority to return a good portion of the money to the area where it's raised," Heaney said.

The Avon Foundation helps low-income women receive treatment for breast cancer, as well as funding home food delivery programs for women who are unable to care for themselves

Walkers are required to raise $1,800 to participate in the Avon Walk.

Reprinted with permission from the Sentinel and Enterprise, Fitchburg.