Charity is a Great Motivator for Exercise

Walkathons and other "exercise for charity" programs work because people seem to appreciate the opportunity to do something they already do (exercise) and raise money for charity at the same time.

A walkathon to benefit AIDS research and treatment. Photo: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock, Inc.

Given the success of walkathons for cancer cures, AIDS research, Alzheimer’s Disease research, animal welfare, and other causes, it’s apparent that “exercise for charity” programs are a reliable way to raise funds. While it might seem reasonable to assume that many people participating in such activities are already physically active and appreciate the opportunity to help a nonprofit by doing something they do on a daily basis, there are actually some other factors involved. According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, it seems like the opportunity to raise money for charity in and of itself is getting people out of their seats.

In the study, researchers split a group of 94 women over the age of 65 into four subgroups: a control that received weekly feedback only; a group whose participants received payment of $20 each week walking goals were met; a group whose participants received a $20 donation to a charity of their choice each week walking goals were met; and one group whose participants had the option of keeping, donating, or keeping part and donating part of their $20 payment.

All the participants in the study started walking more, but the group that donated the money had the largest increase in weekly steps. This implies that donating to charity is a greater incentive to exercise than even getting paid to do so.

The authors of the study did note that their participants were a pretty homogeneous group: they were predominantly well-educated, white, and already interested in exercising. They cautioned that before their findings can be broadly applied, they need to be replicated in more diverse groups.

Nonetheless, what this study does tell us is that people are inherently generous, and that they very much appreciate the opportunity to get involved in fun activities and raise money for their favorite charity at the same time. If your organization hasn’t done a walkathon or other pledge-based exercise fundraiser, it might be time to consider it.

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