When thousands of runners lined up near the Space Needle early Sunday for the half-marathon event at the 37th annual Seattle Marathon, the...
When thousands of runners lined up near the Space Needle early Sunday for the half-marathon event at the 37th annual Seattle Marathon, the announcer said: Remember, you are running to benefit UW Medical Center patient housing today.
What many runners may not have realized was that not one cent of their race-entry fee — which costs up to $95 for the half-marathon and $120 for the full marathon — is destined for charity. Only money that runners decided to donate on top of their entry fees will go to charity.
Last year that amounted to only $12,000 — 1 percent of revenue — at an event that now pulls in more than $1 million annually.
The Seattle Marathon Web site plays up the charity connection, with a logo at the top that says “To benefit UW Medical Center Patient & Family Housing Fund.”
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The Web site also states prominently that the marathon “is organized and run by volunteers in the community.”
While race organizers do rely on thousands of volunteers, the Seattle Marathon Association’s 2006 tax returns show that the association paid $330,000 in compensation to employees and organizers — triple the $110,000 it paid two years earlier.
According to the returns, workers employed by the Seattle Marathon Association earned a total of $168,000.
An additional $162,000 went to a for-profit company, LKHA Inc., for “corporate administration.” The company is managed by race director Louise Long. The compensation paid to Long’s company is up from $40,000 in 2004.
“What she does with the money is up to her. She is the corporation, and we pay her according to a contract,” said John Kokes, president of the Seattle Marathon Association, a nonprofit organization.
Kokes said Long’s base salary hasn’t changed for several years but she has been able to increase her company’s total revenue based on an incentive plan for the amount of sponsorships she brings in.
“Some people think she gets an awful lot for doing this,” Kokes said. “But if you compare it to an hourly rate, it’s probably not that much. She puts in so many hours.”
Long, meanwhile, said not all the money paid to LKHA goes to her. Her company employs up to a dozen temporary staffers a month before the event. It’s not clear if the money paid to LKHA includes compensation for race timing services, often an expensive part of a race.
“We don’t do the event to make a lot of money,” Long said.
How much organizers and staffers get paid for other marathons around the country varies.
The Portland Marathon attracts 12,000 runners, about the same as Seattle. A comparison of 2006 tax returns indicates Portland brought in slightly more revenue. The Portland Marathon organization didn’t pay any employee wages. It did pay directors and fees for professional fundraising and accounting.
Portland Marathon event director Les Smith said he’s organized the marathon for 25 years and has never been paid. He relies on a committee of 80 dedicated volunteers.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said.
The Portland Marathon cost runners $90, and organizers donated about $200,000 of the entry fees to charity.
Other races in Seattle have a more direct fundraising mission — and collect much more money for charity.
At this year’s annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K fun run, organizers said that of an estimated $1.8 million raised, about 84 percent would go directly to breast-cancer screening, treatment, education and research.
More than 11,000 run
Sunday’s race in Seattle was a big success, according to organizers. The cool, sunny morning provided perfect running conditions and more than 11,000 runners turned out. Helping out were 2,500 volunteers, including Christian Bundschu, 15, who said he was in his fifth year checking clothing at Memorial Stadium for his Scout troop.
Runner Karli Reichert, 26, said she paid the full $95 for the half-marathon. She didn’t mind because she was sure it was destined for charity. “I’m assuming it’s for a good cause,” Reichert said. “I would hope so.”
Tom Albertson, 17, also assumed he was raising money for charity. He said he found the race fee “steep.” With all the organization needed, Albertson added, he could see how costs could add up.
The fee for the full marathon has doubled since 1999.
Kokes said he didn’t know whether runners assumed part of their entry fee would go to a charitable cause but that the event was not promoted that way.
When runners register for the race, there is a separate section for making donations. The marathon has raised money for charity this way in previous years, as well.
This year, money donated by runners will help pay housing costs for UW Medical Center patients. As marathon “title sponsor,” the medical center provided medical care at this year’s event.
Most revenue from fees
According to 2006 tax filings, the Seattle Marathon brought in nearly $1.1 million in total revenue that year, up 40 percent from two years earlier. Three-quarters of that money came from entry fees and other receipts, and $121,000 from gifts.
Aside from compensation, expenses included awards and medals ($198,000); supplies ($171,000); printing and publication ($62,000); fees and permits ($37,000); and advertising ($36,000).
“This venture has grown. We used to do it with a handful of volunteers,” Kokes said.
Kokes said Long started out at the Seattle Marathon as a volunteer and then joined the board of directors. She was then asked to serve as race director, and she is in her ninth year in the role.
Long said expenses will account for almost all of this year’s marathon income.
“We do not have much left over at the end of the year, just enough to start up again next year,” she said.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.