Expanded charitable opportunities set up for next marathon

Members of the Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon committee met Wednesday morning at the YMCA on Washington Street to present an overview of this year’s charity sponsors, which organizers say are poised to significantly expand on the $290,000 raised last year during the first marathon here in Naperville.

“We’ve increased the number of runners from 3,500 this past year to 7,000 this fall as we’re moving to a new course than will be run entirely on the streets,” said Robert Hackett, one of five co-race directors overseeing the marathon. “We have plans for even more of an opportunity to give back to the community.”

A total of 26 charities — 10 local and 16 national will be included again in this year’s race. Organizers said 17 responded to the invitation to Wednesday’s meeting, but less than a dozen representatives were on hand including the YMCA, the Naperville and Indian Prairie Educational Foundations, Little Friends, and the Turning Point Autism Foundation.

The 45-minute open discussion meeting included comments and questions ranging from how charities were selected to issues about security, providing food service this year and the time frame charities were given to get their websites up and running for those runners wishing to sponsor various organization.

Craig Bixler, another co-race director, spoke about criteria for selecting charities for 2014 and said there were two factors.

“We want to grow the amount of money raised and any charity that requested just 10 spots for sponsorships they want to sell were put at the bottom of the list,” Bixler said. “The second criterion we used was diversity. We want to attract as many runners as possible to sponsor charities and we didn’t want there to be five cancer organizations or something like that, so we did allow two organizations to request just 10 spots in order to create a good mix.”

Organizers are hoping to improve on charity donations this year and plan to offer a “charity sign up week” that will begin this Monday, Feb. 24. During that time, charities can “sell” up to 30 spots they have bought for race participants and will be given the opportunity to buy more if spots go quickly.

Hackett said that last year, about 15 percent of the participants entered through charity sponsorships and that in a perfect world, all of this year’s spots would be sold before the race opens to general registration on March 8.

“Selling out completely before the open registration won’t happen, though that would be terrific,” Hackett said. “We sold out last year in less than 14 hours, and we still feel even though our numbers have doubled this year that this is going to go quick.”

Fry Family YMCA Executive Director Judy Ellertson said she was hoping that next year, more time would be offered for charities to complete the application process as well as get funds approved for buying spots.

Bixler said that hopefully the application process would begin in late November or December following the race.

Local charities coordinator Barbara Martin said the growth in this year’s race reflects “the laws of supply and demand” and said that the increase stems from “Naperville’s large community of runners and athletes” and the allure of the city.

“People want to come and see Naperville,” she said. “This is a very giving community and there’s a lot to do here besides running 26.2 miles. The facilities are excellent.”

A number of individuals spoke about the overwhelming security used this past year and described it as “intimidating.” Bixler admitted security may have been excessive, but noted that “safety for runners and participants is our top priority.”

“This year we may have been a little over the top, but we’ll look again at what we need and perhaps scale things back a little,” he said. “We’re new at this, and we wanted to make sure we had things covered to ensure nothing would happen.”

Organizers are looking for a food sponsor to offer runners options after the race this year. Mariano’s was suggested as a possible sponsor as the company is expanding its local presence.