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Race organizers hoping for last-minute registration rush

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Organizers of the local Race for the Cure fund-raising event are hoping a last-minute registration push will at least bring participation up to last year’s level.

Entering Friday, registrations for the 5K race and 1-mile family walk totaled 39,900, off 5 percent from last year’s 42,000. The decline is even steeper—12 percent—when comparing this year’s participation to the 45,000 runners and walkers who signed up in 2008. But a month ago, registration was down nearly 20 percent compared to last year.

Officials at the race’s beneficiary, the Indianapolis affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, will be satisfied with matching 2009’s total.

“Given the economy ... people are saying flat is the new up,” said Dana Curish, executive director of the Komen Indianapolis chapter.

The local race promoting breast cancer awareness is the affiliate’s largest fund-raiser—and the sixth-largest such event in the country. But Indianapolis' race ranks 70th nationally in dollars raised, Curish said.

Race for the Cure typically generates about $2.6 million of the Indianapolis chapter’s $3 million annual budget, Curish said. Three-fourths of the entry fees and other gifts made through the event stays in the 21 counties the local affiliate serves. The money helps to provide mammograms, clinical breast exams and survivor support services.

As of Friday, race participants had raised $861,000 through online donations, not counting the $28 registration fee that adds another $1 million. Organizers are still tallying “paper” donations, and many are brought the day of the race, Curish said.

To make it easier to give, the local affiliate this year launched an online fund-raising campaign called The Power of 10. The program prompts race participants to raise $100 by having 10 friends donate $10. If 40,000 people each raised $100, Curish said, those donations alone would total $4 million.

“We’re going to make it as easiest as possible [to give],” she said. “We’re encouraging everyone to fund raise.”

It might not get any simpler than texting a donation from a cell phone. Curish in March unveiled what may be the first such “text-to-donate” option offered among local not-for-profits. The option allows donors to give via mobile phone without punching in credit card numbers. Instead, each $10 gift simply will appear on the donor’s mobile phone bill when a user texts “impact” to 90999.

The Indianapolis Koman chapter hardly is alone in its struggles to raise more money.

Fund raising continued to decline in the first half of 2009, according to the most recent data available from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Its latest Philanthropic Giving Index, similar to a Consumer Confidence Index for charitable giving, fell to its lowest level since the center began the index in 1998.

Eva Aldrich, associate director of public service and the center’s Fund Raising School, encourages not-for-profits to stay connected with their donor base, particularly during the challenging economic climate.

“When times are rough like this, sometimes the tendency can be to freeze,” she said. “But the main thing to do is to keep going with that fund raising and working with your donors.”

The Humane Society of Indianapolis says registrations for its annual Mutt Strut fund-raising walk, meanwhile, are 2 percent ahead of last year's pace. That event, a walk around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track open to supporters and their pets, is planned for April 25.

About 3,800 supporters have registered, Executive Director John Aleshire said. Many participants, however, wait until the day of the event to register, he said, opting to see what the weather brings first.

The $25 registration fee and related fund-raising efforts so far have contributed $235,000 toward the not-for-profit’s $5 million budget. Still, Aleshire’s goal for Mutt Strut is $481,000.

The Humane Society also is exploring new ways to raise money. Among its plans: a 2011 Mutt Strut calendar that will be unveiled in September and the Mutt Strut Poster Pooch contest.

HSI has not set a price on the calendar, which will feature photos of shelter animals. But for $5, dog owners can nominate their pooch to become the organization’s “poster dog.” Then, for a $1, people place their votes to determine the winner.

“Certainly, the economy has been iffy,” Aleshire said. “But also, we are more creative.”

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