Charity run fundraising drops amid COVID-19 rules

COVID-19 is taking its toll on charity runs and the amount of money organizations will see from them this year. 

The Canadian Cancer Society says it expects to lose half of fundraising from charity runs

Some charity runs in Ottawa have been cancelled or used online tools to become virtual events, but in both cases fundraisers are seeing a drop in donations. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Charities are seeing a major drop in fundraising and participation in their running events due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Public health orders have restricted large gatherings of people throughout the spring and summer, so charities like the Canadian Cancer Society can't hold formal events like the Run for the Cure — with opening and closing events or an official race day.

The organization says it has half the participation in its runs compared to this time last year and expects to bring in half as much revenue.

"It will obviously affect the organisation and the way that we're able to invest in research and support programs," said Tanya Henry, vice-president of signature programs.

The Canadian Cancer Society has laid off 40 per cent of its staff and expects to lose $80 million from its annual operating budget. 

Runs take virtual turn

Henry's team has created virtual run events with online tools so people can report their run times and have remote gatherings. It keeps people connected with the cause while other fundraising opportunities are limited.

"Once reality set in, the team has really had to pivot very quickly," Henry said. "We're expecting the runs to do a little bit better than some of our other fundraisers— we have a very loyal base.

Henry said going forward to 2021 they will be thinking about in-person and virtual events so they can adapt quickly to any changes in public health rules. But she said participants are telling her they are happy to have a run at all. 

Trying to find the positive 

That's a sentiment shared by organizers of the 9runrun, an event that raises money for the mental health needs of first responders. 

Registration is down dramatically — 300 people have registered for the fall event compared to around 1,500 at the same time last year.

Race director Brenda Tirrell said it has allowed the fundraiser to grow from an Ottawa-only event.

The Run for the Cure usually has thousands of people participate in major cities across Canada, like Vancouver pictured here. This year numbers are expected to be down by half. (CBC)

"The upside is I'd always thought about taking this across Canada...and now this may be an easier way to do it, as opposed to doing it in large groups." she said.

She said virtual runs have less expensive overhead and can more easily raise awareness about their work and include participants in other cities.

"Maybe do both. We can have virtual running across Canada or across North America if we want, but then also have...groups outside again," Tirrell said. 

"I think virtual running is here to stay. I think people are starting to understand the value of it."


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.