You can gobble chocolate, splash in the mud or pretend to be Spider-Man for a good cause.
From rappelling down a 17-story building to crawling in the mud, charities raise money in unusual ways.
Special Olympics Delaware hosts some of the most outside-the-box fundraisers.
For example, “Over the Edge” participants hover from 222 feet and rappel down a building in Wilmington. Each places a $50 deposit to reserve a spot and then raises at least $1,100 for the opportunity to feel like Spider-Man.
Last year, 90 edgers raised more than $125,000, bringing the fundraiser’s eight-year total to 618 edgers and more than $1 million.
Mary Ann Evans has taken on every Over the Edge. The 68-year-old grandmother will return for her ninth time May 9.
Evans got involved to support her 37-year-old daughter, Leanne, who’s been a member of Special Olympics for nearly 30 years.
“Some people would say I’m crazy. But I really do it for Leanne and also for all the athletes involved in Special Olympics Delaware,” the Smyrna resident said.
Evans said she feels safe 200 feet above ground because the Over the Edge staff are professionals and the equipment feels sturdy. Something going wrong has flashed across her mind each time, but it hasn’t discouraged her.
“When the butterflies come, I think a lot about Leanne and the other athletes, because they face adversity every day,” she said. “There are obstacles for them to overcome, whereas I’m doing this one day out of the year. So it’s nothing for me to do this.”
Jon Buzby, director of communications and program innovations for Special Olympics Delaware, said Over the Edge is safe, because participants are harnessed to a system that’s secured by cement bolts.
“Special Olympics North America has put on tens of thousands of these events and never had an incident,” he said.
Over the Edge is produced by Canadian company Over the Edge Global. The company has raised over $50 million for charities and nonprofits. Buzby said the event is huge because Special Olympics Delaware is the only one in the state with the rights to do it.
For some, the thrill of climbing down a building is on their bucket list, Buzby said.
The fundraiser supports the sports training and competition of more than 4,200 athletes, Buzby said. SODE also hosts the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Rehoboth Beach (over $7 million raised to date) and the Delaware Memorial Bridge Run for Acceptance. The Bridge Run has raised $68,500.
Polar Bear Plunge
Special Olympics puts on one of the state’s most recognizable fundraisers. It draws thousands to splash in frigid water for a good cause every February.
The Lewes Polar Bear Plunge outgrew Cape Henlopen State Park and has been held in Rehoboth Beach for quite some time. It’s raised over $12 million to date.
Most plungers only let the water hit their ankles. But Evans, a seasoned participant, is a savage.
“I go under the water when I do the plunge,” the 68-year-old said. “If I do it, I might as well go all the way in.”
The SODE spokesman said their polar plunge has never resulted in a serious injury.
Buzby said the polar plunge started when it teamed up with a Lewes polar bear club. Their tradition was to plunge on the first Sunday from November to March. It is still held the first Sunday of February.
“A couple of Special Olympics programs hooked up with polar bear clubs in their respective states,” the SODE spokesman said. “We approached the Lewes polar bears and said, ‘Would you mind if one of your plunges benefited Special Olympics?’ They agreed and the rest is history.”
On Feb. 3, there were 3,544 bears raising more than $906,000. The event draws people from more than 10 states. A family from Ohio travels here every year, because their niece is a Delaware Special Olympics athlete.
Buzby said people keep coming back because it’s for a good cause, and it’s wacky.
Dirtiest of them all
The state’s filthiest fundraisers are the Delaware Mud Run and Mud Run Jr. at Frightland in Middletown, where people of the Tri-State area can take part in a charity 5K with a twist.
The Mud Run 5K has boot-camp obstacles surrounded by mud. People cheer as runners slip, slide and slosh their way to victory. Proceeds benefit the Leukemia Research Foundation of Delaware, said foundation president Denni Ferrara.
Children ages 6 to 14 go ham in a 1.5-mile mud course in Mud Run Jr.
There’s also the Mud Run Elite, a tougher and longer version for competitors seeking an extra challenge. Since the Mud Run was founded in 2009, followed by the Mud Run Jr. in 2011 and Mud Run Elite in 2017, the events have raised more than $2 million, Ferrara said.
Participants are encouraged to compete as a team.
“Races are a team-building experience. Similar to battling cancer, it takes a village,” Ferrara said. “Even for the people who don’t participate but volunteer, there is a sense of community and family bonding together to make a difference towards something so much bigger than all of us as individuals.”
Golf is king
Charity golf tournaments usually lean toward the normal end of the spectrum for fundraisers.
But Milford’s nonprofit Kent-Sussex Industries has kept things interesting: each team is only allowed to bring three clubs.
The KSI 3 Club Golf Tournament has raised over $340,000, said Alicia Hollis, KSI director of community relations. The nonprofit helps adults with disabilities find employment.
Proceeds benefit adults in the program, from providing them with transportation to funding the general operating budget, Hollis said.
Since teams are limited to three clubs, the individual who’s best at putting brings their putter and the one who’s best at driving is encouraged to bring their driver, and so on, Hollis said.
“Only having three clubs gives everybody an opportunity to utilize their strengths on the course,” she said.
“Let me parallel that with KSI. KSI serves adults with disabilities. We focus on their abilities and their strengths,” Hollis said. “The golf tournament is doing the same thing. It puts everyone on the same level playing field, whether you’re experienced or not.”
The 30th tournament will be at the Rookery North in September.
Golf like a boss
Charity golf has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years.
It’s a proven way for organizations to raise revenue, said Bill Gardner, president and founder of Links, CE in Hockessin. He specializes in consulting and marketing fund-raising charity tournaments.
“It’s a major tool of additional revenue for these nonprofits,” he said. “Very few charity golf events fall by the wayside and decide they’re not going to do it anymore; and new ones keep coming into the fold.”
Links is behind premier golf tournaments like the Beau Biden Foundation Golf Invitational at the Biderman Golf Course in Wilmington, which raises over $100,000 a year.
By comparison, Gardner said, the average golf fundraiser in the state raises $8,000 to $10,000.
Each year his company does 400 to 500 events around the country, including workshops and lectures on hosting successful golf tourneys.
Since 1996, Links has helped more than 20,000 directors of charity-golf tournaments raise more than $24 million in net revenue, he said.
Gardner said golf tourneys attracts business golfers, professionals who see the charity event as twofold. “It’s a way to entertain clients and also a way to conduct business on the golf course,” he said.
The key to running a successful golf tournament involves having a committee of eight to 12 people who are committed to the cause and are willing to roll up their sleeves and do some work, he said.
The committee should feature people of influence in the community, because name recognition will help them raise money from sponsors. After all, people like to support folks who they already respect or have good relationships with, he said.
Startup tournaments need to follow the money, Gardner said. In other words, the committee should think about the heavy hitters they pay on a routine basis -- such as their doctor, accountant, lawyer and banker -- because they’re all potential golfers and sponsors.
The quality of the course is important and for many, private courses are the way to go.
“Most of the business golfers prefer to play a private course because they can’t get on that course unless they’re a member or know a member that invites them as a guest,” Gardner said.
Since food is the way to a man’s heart, Gardner said, it’s important to offer plenty of delicious hors d’oeuvres before a tourney and after, and/or having a buffet and cocktails.
Offering player gifts are a big deal too, from handing out posh shoe bags to a golf umbrella.
In January, Hollis and Gardner sat on a panel about building a tourney. She said KSI has fun with prizes by awarding gifts to the team that places last, opposite to what most tournaments do.
Finally, hosting contests or games the day of a tournament are also valuable.
Organizers could have a ball drop, a popular contest where golfers and non-golfers buy a ticket. Numbered balls are dropped from a helicopter, crane or a fire truck. The winner is determined by the ball that lands closest to the hole, Gardner said.
In lower Delaware, two longstanding food fundraisers might be sexist.
There’s the men’s Georgetown Fire Company Oyster Eat, countered by the women’s Shrimp Feast by Lewes Fire Department. Both are held Feb. 22.
Glenn Marshall, Lewes Fire Department public information officer, has worked both. He said the Shrimp Feast was created in opposition to the Oyster Eat. But there’s no bad blood between the two, he said.
“The deal is the men have their thing and the women have theirs. What was looked at as sexist years ago has become kind of a thing of pride,” Marshall said.
“There are husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends that understand: ‘I have my event and you have yours.’ That’s exactly how they look at it,” he said. “I’m sure if I wasn’t working the Shrimp Feast and I walked in there, my wife would say, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Chairman Michael Briggs, Georgetown Fire Company president, said a male-only Oyster Eat honors the tradition set decades ago.
“Back in 1937, a bunch of farmers and firemen got together and had an oyster roast, and just the guys were there,” Briggs said.
“I’ve caught some grief and sometimes have been asked, ‘Why aren’t women allowed?’ I say, ‘Well, I guess it’s the same thing at the Lewes firehouse, because men aren’t allowed there to eat shrimp,’” he said.
The Oyster Eat raises $15,000 to $18,000 annually. Proceeds go to fire and rescue equipment, Briggs said.
The Lewes Fire Company didn’t have an estimate of how much money the Shrimp Feast raises. Its proceeds benefit Lewes’ general operating budget.
The Oyster Eat has been recognized for its cultural and historical significance.
“[Former U.S. Rep.] Mike Castle was a faithful patron and every year he’d come down to the Oyster Eat, even when he was governor,” Briggs said. “When he joined Congress, he got the event into the Library of Congress as a national event.”
Both the Shrimp Feast and Oyster Eat attract revelers from surrounding states. Briggs said he’s seen multiple generations at the Oyster Eat.
“We even have a grandfather, father and son who’ve come before. They make it a tradition that every year they come to the Oyster Eat together,” he said.
“You’ve got some college people that are starting to come now that get together,” Briggs said, “and the only time they get together every year is at the Oyster Eat. So when they get out of college, they go their separate ways. But they want to go to the Oyster Eat and make it an event.”
The Chocolate 5K Run/Walk and Kiddie K at Delaware Tech Terry Campus is a sweet get-together for the whole family.
The next one is in Dover this Saturday. Runners will get to indulge in homemade hot chocolate, freshly prepared chocolate ganache and decadent home-baked chocolate treats, all prepared by Terry Campus culinary arts students.
Terry Campus director Cornelia Johnson said guests mingle with culinary students and fellow runners inside the cozy Del-One Conference Center after the 5K.
Proceeds go to multiple scholarships for the International Education Study Abroad Scholarship Program.
Johnson said this year students will get to travel to destinations such as the Dominican Republic, England, Ireland, Costa Rica, Italy and Switzerland. Each group spends eight to 10 days abroad.
The opportunity for students to travel outside the country will enrich them, especially because many have never left the U.S., Johnson said. Since 2013, the Chocolate 5K has raised more than $112,000 for over 600 students to travel abroad.
“I think it’s critical because the world is so small now, so we should be educating students,” she said. “And I think many employers are looking for that. Students can learn a lot on the internet, but there’s nothing like traveling to another country and learning firsthand.”
Del Tech administrators started the event because they were trying to come up with a fun way to raise money to support the study abroad.
Eventually it was decided the run would be held in February with a Valentine’s Day twist, Terry Campus public relations manager John Painter said.
Would eating sweet treats after a workout be counterproductive? Painter said absolutely not.
“It’s a sweet reward for all the hard work you put in,” he said.
Psychology of giving
Is it wrong we live in a culture where fundraiser events are needed to raise substantial dollars for a good cause? Shouldn’t people just give without there being an event linked to it?
SODE spokesman Buzby said people already support good initiatives, even if there’s no charity event.
“I think people do give money. But I think what you’re reaching [with a charity event] is a group of people who otherwise might not give money to your organization because they’re giving it to other organizations,” he said.
Buzby said if someone is already writing five checks to five different charities, a game-changer for them to donate to a sixth could be if they learn of a fundraiser event that sounds appealing to them, like the Polar Bear Plunge.
“People probably did it originally for the cause and said, ‘Let’s do it for Special Olympics,’” the SODE spokesman said about the plunge. “Now it’s become: ‘Hey, let’s do it for Special Olympics. But it’s also a great excuse for us to get together and have fun.’”