In the spirit of giving this season, let’s lift up our sport and make it safe for more people. That includes the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and women, all of whom may face barriers to running freely.
Around the country and the world, nonprofits work to increase participation, remove physical and psychological hurdles, and transform lives through running. So we rounded up 12 running-related charities that turn your donations into support and empowerment. With your help, more people will have the opportunity confidently clock miles. (Have a charity you think should be on this list? Leave a note in the comments below!)
Black Girls RUN! Foundation
For more than a decade, Black Girls RUN! has fought stereotypes that black women don’t participate in the sport. Now, with more than 70 running groups across the country, 250,000 members, and an annual fitness festival called Sweat With Your Sole, the group is helping women of color become more visible and comfortable in running. The philanthropic arm of the organization supports programming and aims for even further expansion of the group.
Girls on the Run
The 8- to 15-year-old girls who sign up for this running-based program do get a good workout—the organization’s own research shows girls who were the least active at the start of the season increased their physical activity by 40 percent. But they also learn critical life skills, such as making good decisions and resolving conflicts. Participants meet regularly with a trained coach, who guides them in preparing for a non-competitive 5K while teaching a curriculum that builds competence and confidence not just in running, but in life.
For years, the number 261 has stood for women’s ability to break barriers in running—it’s the bib number Kathrine Switzer wore when she became the first registered woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. More than five decades later, Switzer serves as founder and board chair for this organization that connects female runners around the globe. Programs include a coaching certification that focuses on teaching healthy, sustainable running habits to women; non-competitive running events; and local clubs that meet for runs in locations from Albania to Kansas City to Zambia.
On Mother’s Day 2020, Olympian Alysia Montaño offered a gift to moms everywhere by launching a nonprofit, &Mother. The organization aims to change the culture and sports industry to better support women during and after pregnancy. This past November, &Mother teamed up with apparel brand, Oiselle to release recommended changes to and a gold standard for contracts for sponsored athletes that would support pregnancy, postpartum recovery, and parental leave.
Strong, bold, beautiful—there’s a confidence that comes with participating in track and field, and that’s what Olympian Mechelle Lewis Freeman wants to channel through her nonprofit, which she started in 2015. The organization offers in-person and virtual workshops with Olympians and other leaders in the sport; educational resources; and grants to athletes who need financial assistance with expenses like shoes, club fees, and travel to meets.
Wings of America
Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Wings empowers native youth with two-day running and fitness camps in American Indian communities nationwide. The group also offers leadership and coaching training, and assembles a national team of native runners that travels to compete in the junior race at the USATF Cross Country Championships.
Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation
When she wasn’t logging miles, runner Vanessa Marcotte spent the majority of her free time volunteering. Tragically, she was killed near her family’s home in Princeton, Massachusetts when she went out for a walk, and soon after, her cousin Caroline Tocci and best friend Ashley McNiff joined forces to form an organization that supports female safety and gender equality. They’ve held self-defense workshops, funded safety awareness and similar programs through non-profit Girls Inc., and hosted 5Ks, where athletes have gathered in person and virtually to #RunforVanessa.
This Colorado-based organization, launched by former pro triathlete and Skirt Sports founder Nicole DeBoom, takes the fear out of starting a new running program. Women who have always wanted to try the sport but faced barriers—be it weight, lack of knowledge, or insufficient financial resources—get paired with their own Personal Motivator, a more experienced runner who will show them the ropes. The new runners begin the program in March, and by June, they’re crossing the finish line of their first 5K. Funds support gear, training plans, and education on topics such as nutrition and cross-training.
Girls Gotta Run Foundation
Nearly one in five school-aged girls in Ethiopia don’t attend classes, due to factors that range from early marriage and pregnancy to child labor. But GGRF believes running, the country’s national sport, can provide a pathway to education and empowerment. Students in the program are known as Athletic Scholars; they not only train as a team and compete in local races, they receive full financial support to attend school as well as additional instruction in life skills, savings, and entrepreneurship.
The Jeuness Track Club
Since 1985, Coach Jean Bell has led this grass-roots, community-based track club for girls ages 5 to 17 in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Thanks to the training and competition opportunities the team provides, many aspiring athletes go on to further their education on athletic scholarships.
The Wendy Martinez Legacy Project
In September 2018, Wendy Martinez was killed in a random attack during a run in Washington, D.C. A group of her family and friends, including fiancé and fellow marathoner Daniel Hincapie, started the The Wendy Martinez Legacy Project not long afterward. The group’s aim is to raise funds for running, community, and technology projects—all causes about which Martinez cared deeply. Grants have gone to running organizations like Girls on the Run, as well as those working to end homelessness, including Back on My Feet.
The Sports Bra Project
Other than shoes, a sports bra is one of the most critical pieces of equipment for female runners—but not every community around the world has a sporting goods store nearby, and many would-be athletes lack the resources to buy one even if they could find one. The Sports Bra Project closes the gap by collecting and distributing this crucial gear to women and girls in various sports in 16 different countries. You can donate new bras directly, or provide funds that cover operating expenses and allow the purchase of more bras when necessary.
📹Related Video: Not Today, a Runner’s World Documentary