Monday, April 01, 2013

Color Me Rad...Good or Bad? **UPDATE-2**

Before and After
We had some friends staying with us this weekend so they could run in Color Me Rad here in Houston. In fact there was a total of 11 human bodies and one canine in my house over the weekend.

I guess that might sound stressful to some people but it really doesn't phase me much at all. The only thing I'm concerned with is that everyone has a place to sleep and clean towels for the shower. Other than that I don't make any promises as far as feeding or entertaining. We just make it up as we go and it usually turns out to be a pretty fun time for everyone.

These color "races" (most are not a race but a charity fun run) were inspired by the Holi Festival in India which I have longed to see since I first learned about it years and years ago. I was held back by the fact that it takes place in India, which is not really convenient for me, and also I'm not Hindu. Then one day I ran across a color run website on the internet but never lived in an area close enough to one until recently.

Jayson and I didn't run in the race because we have some almost believable physical limitations. Well, they're actually all true but they sound really lame. We decided our efforts would be put to better use by volunteering instead of running.

Jayson was looking forward to dousing our friends with fistfuls of colored cornstarch but when the time came it started looking less and less appealing so we decided to help hand out water bottles at the half-way point instead. This ended up being a great choice for us and we enjoyed it a lot. Our bodies are extremely angry at our choice but they'll get over it eventually.

We left our house at the butt crack of dawn so we could park free at Reliant. After 8 a.m. they charged $10 for parking. Jayson and I made our way to the volunteer area where we were given a yellow t-shirt and told to wait over by all the other yellow t-shirts. We couldn't help but notice that almost everyone in a yellow t-shirt appeared to be under the age of 17 and also Asian. Which was odd. I think there was a large group of volunteers from some organization that was apparently mostly young and Asian.

We approached a guy in a blue staff shirt carrying a megaphone since it's been our experience that people who carry megaphones sometimes know stuff. Same rule applies to clipboard carriers. Let's call megaphone man "Bob". Bob told us to stay put while he got all the other volunteers separated into groups...which looked a lot like herding cats. We felt a little conspicuous standing all alone but we follow directions fairly well and stayed put until Bob was ready for us.

All the other yellow shirts were loaded into the back of large trucks but Bob pointed to his truck and told us we could ride up front with him. I'm pretty sure he made that decision after he assessed our age and general physical condition and decided not to risk one of us breaking a hip in the back of his truck.

We made our way around the ginormous Reliant parking lot, stopping at a couple of color stations to drop off volunteers. I thought all the color came from colored cornstarch but we learned that some of the color stations had volunteers equipped with water sprayers in a backpack. The water was colored with packets of highly concentrated liquid dye which I think is food grade so it's safe. After learning this the only thing going through my head was cornstarch + water = glue. It ended up being a fine mist of water which didn't seem to react with the cornstarch and turn people into gummy colorful statues like I was hoping.

When we got to the water station we set up tables and began unpacking the 2-1/2 pallets of water that were waiting for us. We were told to take the lids off as many bottles as we could before the race started. This proved to be a really sucky job so we encouraged the dozen or so youngsters at our station to do most of the work. I was nearly having a panic attack at the thought of all those plastic water bottle caps going to waste since I was sure I could find something crafty to do with them. I mentioned this to one of the volunteers who was a bossy little Asian girl we referred to as The General. She made it her personal mission to make sure that every single water bottle cap found its way into my designated bag. I don't know how many I ended up with but it's a lot.

We had a lot of fun handing out water and looking at the crazy costumed runners who came by our station. I think the capacity for this race was 8,000. It wasn't sold out so my best guess is maybe 6,000 participants showed up and pretty much every single one of them thanked us as they ran, walked, or sometimes crawled by.

We had a really great time so would I do it again? Well...maybe. There were a couple of things that didn't sit well with me. They're not major enough for me to say I would never ever have anything to do with a Color Me Rad race again, but they're enough to make me think carefully before I do.

I learned a lot while visiting with Bob in the cab of his truck. Bob's glassy eyes rarely focused on anything for more than a few seconds so I was pretty sure he was at least half baked. This might have worked to my advantage since he answered all of my very direct questions.

There are several different color races that take place around the country but Color Me Rad is a new one, less than 2 years old. The people who started it began to sell franchises in the U.S. and Canada and that's how it has grown so quickly in such a short period of time. There are over 100 races scheduled for 2013, each of them averaging 5,000 to 6,000 participants. The Calgary race at the end of June will have over 20,000 participants and will be a 2-day event.

The registration fees vary from free to $55 or more depending on the race and when you sign up. If you volunteer to help at the packet pick-up site before the race, you can run for free. You can register the day of the race but it will cost you. Your registration fee typically includes a t-shirt, a pair of sunglasses, your participant number and a temporary tattoo. All volunteers also receive a free t-shirt.

The Color Me Rad website states that a portion of their proceeds will benefit a charity within the community. For the Houston race the chosen charity was The Special Olympics. So how much money did The Special Olympics get? No one knows. I'm sure The Special Olympics knows and are very grateful for any donation they receive but do they really get a "portion of the proceeds"? In my opinion, not so much.

Here's what Half Baked Bob told me. Keep in mind that Bob is not a local volunteer. He is a paid employee of Color Me Rad which is a for-profit corporation. Bob said that when a local charity is chosen, they can send their people to volunteer at the race and Color Me Rad will pay the charity for each volunteer. He thought it was around $75 per volunteer. Our charity was The Special Olympics so they could provide volunteers from within their organization or from anyone who participates in their Olympics.

There were approximately 250 volunteers signed up to help with the race, some at the packet pick-up site a couple of days before the race but the majority of those volunteers were with us on race day. My best guess is that very few, if any, were with The Special Olympics. I really hope I'm wrong about that but none of the volunteers we met were with The Special Olympics.

Another way that Color Me Rad benefits the local charity is to collect donations from their website. For The Special Olympics the goal was to collect $20,000 in donations. As of today, the total was $3,237.00 in donations made by 8 donors. That's really pitiful when you consider that several thousand people paid an average of about $40 each to participate. Even when you take their expenses into account (cornstarch, t-shirts, water, site fees, freebies, etc.) this is a money-making machine.

According to Bob there is no set portion of the registration fee that goes to the charity. He said it's possible that Color Me Rad makes a donation later on but he wasn't sure about that. There have been some races where you can enter a specific code when you register and that will set aside a portion of your registration for the charity, but the Houston race didn't have that option.

Here's my issue. If you're going to say that your event benefits a charity or that a portion of your proceeds will benefit a charity then I expect you to do more than throw a few dollars at that charity. I feel like Color Me Rad is using the charity angle to lure in more participants since a lot of people love to do charity fun runs. But in the end the charity gets a pittance of the overall proceeds which could easily be in the $100,000 range.

Another issue I had was with the waste the race generates. There were 2-1/2 pallets of water at our water station and probably the same amount at the finish line. There were 35 8 oz. bottles per case and 128 cases per pallet. That's 4,480 water bottles per pallet. We ended up using approximately 2 pallets worth so we went through 8,960 bottles of water. We were provided with large trash cans and bags and were told to just toss them in the nearby dumpster.

Okay seriously? How hard would it have been to contact a local recycling center to come pickup the empties? I would have hauled some of the bags to the center myself if we hadn't had a car load of people with us. I did bring home as many bottle caps as I could but I cringed at the thought of all the bottles and cardboard boxes being tossed into the trash. Boo on you, Color Me Rad.

So there you have it. The Color Me Rad people need to call me because they obviously need my help. If they're going to say that a portion of their proceeds will benefit a local charity then they need to actually set aside a percentage of the proceeds or the registration fees for that charity. What they're doing now is misleading and benefits the race more than the charity. Also I think they have a responsibility to make sure that the gargantuan amount of recyclables they are generating actually get recycled. But if they want to ship all the bottle caps to my house I'll make sure they get put to good use.

Here is an email I sent to Color Me Rad:
"Can you tell me what percentage of your proceeds are donated to charity? I volunteered at the Houston run today and an employee told me that Color Me Rad encourages donations from its participants and volunteers but that none of the proceeds from the run are set aside to benefit the charity."

Here is the response I received:
"They were mistaken. Each charity receives about 25-30% depending on their involvement in setting up the race and providing volunteers. We love our charities!"

My take on this is that she just confirmed what Half Baked Bob told me. They pay the charity per volunteer. That 25-30% is probably the cap...they won't pay the charity any more than that percentage of the proceeds regardless of how many volunteers are provided. Again...that's just my opinion but she did state that the charity is paid depending on their involvement which is not the same as receiving a portion of the proceeds. They work for their donation.

This just occurred to me in the shower where I get all my profound thoughts. And some not quite so profound ones. Each race is manned mostly by volunteers with a small number of paid staff on hand to oversee. I actually like this and think it's a great idea. From a business point of view it makes sense because there is no way they could employ enough people to manage each race and still turn a profit. paying non-profits for volunteer labor not only do they get the benefit of not having to pay payroll taxes or carry insurance (unemployment, workers comp, etc.) on those volunteers but they also get to deduct from their tax return a portion of whatever they pay the organization for their charity labor. On the business side it's genius. On the ethics side it's walking a fine line. It's not really unethical it's just...selfish?


Elsa said...

Very interesting, and enlightening!
My daughter is a runner, and has over the years, learned to avoid
certain race organizations because as they grow larger and more successful, the race becomes more about money, and much less about the runners' comfort and safety.

It's an issue that people really need to be aware of.

Kim Street said...

Shannon, you are awesomely funny in this blog post! I can hear your voice throughout. I love that you talked about questioning the "charitable events" we may get involved with. good on ya, girl. And as for Half-baked-Bob. Fantastic!!

donnaj said...

i'm like you-i see soooo many places that could recycle their plastic. although i read recently even though we put as much as we can out there in recycle bins, on avg only 7% is actually recycled. i hope that's wrong.

Shannon Green said...

I read something similar to that Donna. I know that my local recycling center will reject any recyclables that are sent in and haven't been washed out. I will admit that sometimes I take the time to rinse that ketchup out of the bottle but sometimes I don't.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon! I swore off plastic bottles awhile back because I just couldn't stand the thought of them moldering in the landfill for eons.

I see you've been blogging for a long time so you've probably heard of the Liebster Award. I nominated your blog. You can find out how to accept this award by visiting my blog at Love your YouTube videos!

Brent Fremming said...

Great notes Shannon. I ran my daughter and I this past weekend at a Fresno Color Me Rad. We've done different charity walks/runs from March of Dimes to Autism Speaks. It seems there is a better ecological mindset among the truer charity event participants than Color Me Rad, but they all seem to generate a lot of waste; I think I've an adage that can sum event phenomena up: people are stupid.

1. From a runner's perspective staging is important when you start any run. You really don't have a lot of business being at the front of the start line if your plan is to start walking like an injured cow... or run 50 yards and then start walking. I've a Bob Sport Utility Stroller with knobby tires all-around, and, after running the Rad race six months ago, decided to start a little bit further back in the maw of the front 100 people. Once I start running, I pretty much keep pace. I did my best, but I'm sure a few people experienced swollen ankles today after I was forced to mow them down.

2. If I'm running with a child in a color race, I really don't want to hear "look out for the baby... don't hit the baby" when I approach a color station. We ARE participating in a color event for God sake; it wasn't like somebody randomly gave me a baby and stroller to push. I don't know if it is a directive of the Color Me Rad Staff to avoid kids, but after the second round of this nonsense (I ran the race six months past) I was a bit exhausted having to shout "Get he kid, get the kid, get the kid!" etc., through every color station. Stupid, stupid volunteers.

Shannon Green said...

Oh my gosh Brent, that's hilarious!! Our friends who ran in this race said that at one color station the volunteers (sweet little Asian girls) apologized for gently sprinkling them with color. Those girls should have been at the water station with me!

FeedYourSoulArt said...

Suggestion for any plastic bottle caps that may still be lurking about, look on you tube for a pincushion that is made to look like a ring. If you happen to try it let us know, Kat

ChristineMM said...

Even at nonprofits the CEOs can make a lot. The college board guy makes over $800K. I wonder what the CO of for profit RAD makes?

ChristineMM said...

Why should volunteers run a for profit event? Just pondering in that.

Here is the owner if color me rad

Anonymous said...

Color me Rad just ran an event for the Special Olympics in Syracuse and only 12% of the money went to the charity.

Susan Silver Dill said...

only 6% went to charity here.

If I remember correctly, most of these types of groups are only REQUIRED to give 1/2% to the actual charity.

Here's a good list to consult:

And as for who NOT to give to:

Shannon Green said...

What I'm really interested in is their tax returns. I'm wondering if they are trying to write off the money they give to the charities as a charitable donation. It is NOT. They receive a service in exchange for the money they give therefore they're not allowed to deduct it unless the the amount of the donation exceeds the value of the service received. Then they can deduct the difference. I suspect tax fraud.

Litzergam said...

I participated in a Color Me Rad event this past year. I found a special code to use at registration that gave me a $3 discount and also gave an additional 15% of my registration fee to Special Olympics. If I had not used the code, I'm not sure how much of the registration fee would have gone to Special Olympics. I registered early and used the discount code, so my registration cost $27.

GL Jarl said...

Another issue is the paint, said to be edible. But a study found that the Kroger cornstarch tested positive for GMO, which is not positive at all, it's very negative :)
Here's a link to the study

Laney Cakes said...

I think that, in general, people are looking for an event that is fun and worthy of bragging about. With events like mud runs and color runs, for profit organizations are going to exploit the human condition and use fun marketing along with charitable contributions to rake in the cash with complete disregard for the actual people that those charities were designed to help. Until we decide as a whole that exploiting charities is unacceptable and take a stand, as a whole, unfortunately these organizations will continue to exploit charities and those of us that want to support charities. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes our entire community to stop this charity exploitation. How do you picket a charitable event without looking like a charity hater? We need a group that will take on these issues and organize our communities to say, NO MORE IN OUR COMMUNITY! When the organizations find that community after community won't support your event unless they give more to the charity they are exploiting, the event won't come back next year and hopefully, eventually they will close their doors. Just a thought....

Out of the Ordinary said...

Don't forget all the lawsuits from asthma attacks and other health problems from the GMO cornstarch dust and artificial dyes. Also it stains cars and they have to pay for those repairs They also have to pay workers to clean up the streets and the parks. It also harms the environment. They are now paying large fines in other countries to clean up parks and rivers they've polluted. So in the end, how much money can really be made and really it's just destroying health of humans and animals and the environment.

Anonymous said...

Yet more reasons to dislike these things :-p