Thanksgiving donations actually going to charity? Runs for a cause vary in amount of community support

Published: Nov. 21, 2019 at 5:38 PM CST
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For many families, Thanksgiving Day starts with a charity run.

There are three Madison races on November 28 that all claim to benefit local charities, but how much money really gets donated?

Here are the numbers:

Festival Foods sponsors a Turkey Trot. There are 10 around the state. One is at Warner Park in Madison and another at Janesville Craig High School. Those 10 races raised more than $300,000 last year, and the proceeds were split among Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs around the state. Our local YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County each received $17,500 last year.

The Berbee Derby in Fitchburg funds the Technology Education Foundation. Last year the race raised about $103,000. That was down significantly from 2017, when they raised $243,000, because they offered reduced entries in 2018 in honor of their 15th year. That year they gave out $107,000 in grants to 12 organizations in southern Wisconsin, primarily Dane County.

The Madison Turkey Trot, which starts at the Alliant Energy Center, is run by an Illinois-based company called All Community Events. They donated about $6,000 to United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Dane County last year. An event manager for All Community Events said they had 2,600 runners last year, but wouldn't respond when asked how much money they received through registrations. At the rate of $36.99 a person, that would total more than $96,000 in revenue.

The Berbee Derby is the longest running Thanksgiving Day race in our area with the largest local impact.

The Berbee Derby Technology Education Foundation supports groups that are closing the technology gap among people of all ages and abilities in our community. 100 percent of the run's proceeds goes to the foundation. In 2018, these 12 groups received money:

Catholic Multicultural Center $7,200

DANEnet $7,300

Door Creek Church $9,930

Edgewood College $4,901

Goodman Community Center $11,512

Monroe High School $10,056

St. James School $10,000

The First Tee $5,000

Verona Area School District $9,600

Walbridge School $1,890

Wisconsin Public Television $10,000

YWCA Madison $20,000

In a typical year, the foundation gives out half of the money in grants, and puts the other half in the endowment.

It's a labor of love for the local man who created the Berbee Derby 15 years ago, and it's changing lives for people who directly benefit from the services of those groups.

"We have everything ready for next Friday's event," explains Xochilth Garcia to her colleagues at the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Xochilth is a busy woman. She's the membership and officer manager at the chamber, a student at Madison College, and a successful small business owner, all thanks to a digital literacy class she took last year at DANEnet.

"[At] DANENet what you do is take the computer classes for computer skills, and at the end of the class, they allow you to purchase a computer at a low price," says Xochilth.

That computer has changed her life. It gave her a digital took kit to grow her small cleaning business, and gave her kids the ability to complete their homework.. at home.

"It is a need," says Xochilth, "I don't think nowadays it's something you purchase just because you want to have it. It's not a luxury. It is a need."

In fact, data from DANEnet, which came from the American Community Survey as part of the 2010 census, shows there are 30,000 households in Dane County without internet access. And according to the Wisconsin Library Association, 1 in 3 adults wants additional digital skills to make better use of technology.

It's that technology gap that Berbee Derby founder Jim Berbee says they've been working to close since they started the race and Technology Education Foundation.

"Since the initial founding we've spread out a little bit," says Berbee, "And we've really focused more on how can we help people get the skills that are necessary to fully participate in our community."

Since 2004, the foundation has given out $873,737 to local organizations. At the same time, the foundation has built up an endowment of more than $750,000.

"The Berbee Derby is just one of my favorites," explains Berbee with a smile, "They get some exercise in before they put down their 2,000 calories. And at the end of the day that money is distributed to the community for good work. It's just a wonderful situation where everybody wins. And that's a pretty good feeling, yeah."

And it's that idea of digital equity that motivates Xochilth to pay it forward as a now volunteer at DANEnet.

"It was amazing," she says about her volunteer efforts, "It made me feel wonderful, because at one point I was... helping elders learn how to communicate, how to read the newspaper, how to email their grandkids. It was a very warm feeling in my heart to see how much people can do online."

Berbee emphasized that when you sign up to run the Berbee Derby, they take your donation seriously. Not only are they transparent about who gets the grants, but they also do follow up work on the organizations that receive them.

Madison is home to many running and biking events, and many say they have a charity component. So how do you know how much of your money is actually going to those non-profits?

It's important to do a little research. Here are a few ideas:

1. Look on the website or literature to see if the event claims 100% of the proceeds goes to charity

2. Are they transparent about their financials? If not, that might be a red flag.

3. Do they list where the money went for past events and how it was used?

This is not to knock for-profit events. Many of those are well organized. But if you're signing up to do an event because you want to support a cause, it's always a good idea to check that they're being good stewards of your money.