Giving Back: Running and Outdoor Nonprofits You Can Support

Trail runners and ultrarunners are generous types. Many of us volunteer at races and help clear and rebuild trails. We give moral support to runners struggling along a route, and we chip in to crowdfund campaigns for ill or injured runners. In other words, we look out for each other, which is wonderful. Keep at it!

But, this is the time of year to stretch that generosity to care about the wider community and Mother Earth herself. Inspired by “Giving Tuesday,” which started in 2012 to encourage global generosity and counterbalance the consumerism of “Black Friday,” and recognizing the practicality of tax-deductible charitable contributions, we asked some of iRunFar’s contributors to share recommendations for nonprofits that are deserving of support.

Through the following short descriptions, we aim to raise awareness as well as funds for these organizations doing good. If you want to spread the word about another nonprofit, then we encourage you to share info about it in the comments section below!

Nominations by iRunFar Writer Sarah Lavender Smith

Here are Sarah Lavender Smith’s favorite nonprofits.

Conservation Lands Foundation

About six years ago, I learned about the National Conservation Lands. Lesser known and more remote than national and state parks, the National Conservation Lands make up some 35 million acres of public lands, primarily in the western United States and Alaska, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM’s open space with designations such as National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails all make up parts of the National Conservation Lands.

These public lands have been increasingly threatened, with their protections scaled back to allow for development, over the past four years. Consequently, I’ve become an ardent supporter of the Durango, Colorado-based Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF) because it’s the only nonprofit focused exclusively on protecting and enhancing them. CLF also supports and funds a network of some 80 grassroots conservation groups that work on protecting specific geographic areas throughout the National Conservation Lands.

America’s public lands are essential for so many reasons: to provide crucial habitat and biodiversity, to help mitigate climate change, to protect indigenous culture and preserve historic artifacts located on them, to provide opportunities for responsible recreation (like trail running!), to maintain open space for future generations, and more. Check out this map to learn about where you can run and explore these public lands, and then donate.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which the Conservation Lands Foundation helps to protect. Photo: Morgan C. Smith

Running for a Better Oakland

The nonprofit Running for a Better Oakland could also be named, “Running for a Better Community” or, “Running for a Better Future.” Chances are, a big city near you has a similar program, and if it doesn’t, it should.

Running for a Better Oakland works with kids and teens, grades kindergarten through 12th, during the school year to train for a 5k or half marathon. I volunteered as a run mentor and served on its board for several years and saw firsthand the healthy effects of getting students to run. Besides making them more fit and goal-oriented, the program promotes positive relationships between mentors and students and also draws in parents, many of whom start to run, too. The teens who participate often don’t start out as athletic and don’t participate in sports at school, so the running program opens opportunities and promotes health in ways they otherwise would miss. Many high-school seniors who participate for multiple years are awarded college scholarships. Check it out and donate.

Magda Boulet (right) and other members of Running for a Better Oakland. Photo: Run for a Better Oakland

Free to Run

Getting to know ultrarunner and human-rights lawyer Stephanie Case at an ultramarathon eight years ago, and then following her posts about working for the United Nations in Afghanistan, made me care more about conflict and oppression happening halfway around the globe. In 2014, Stephanie founded a non-governmental organization, Free to Run, to promote running and other sports for women in regions where cultural or religious beliefs, and the threat of violence, keep girls and women from participating in athletics and outdoor recreation.

What the organization has accomplished—the hundreds of women’s lives it has improved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere through running and sports—is impressive to say the least. By promoting sports for women, Free to Run also promotes female leadership and life skills. I hope you’ll learn more and donate.

Members of Free to Run. Photo: Free to Run

Nominations from iRunFar Columnist Hannah Green

Learn more about Hannah Green’s preferred nonprofit.

Continental Divide Trail Coalition

The main nonprofit I support is the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which aids conservation efforts along the Continental Divide Trail’s (CDT) 3,100-mile length through the western United States. I donate to this organization because it is not only one of the biggest conservation efforts in the country, but also because I spend countless hours on the CDT running, backpacking, skiing, and biking, and am very grateful for the work that goes into building and maintaining such a long trail. Donate here.

For folks who aren’t connected to the CDT, there is likely another long trail nearby you that you sometimes recreate on and that has supporting nonprofits. A few examples include the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the Arizona Trail Association, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, and so many others. Get informed and help out!

The Continental Divide Trail in Colorado. Photo: Hannah Green

Nomination from iRunFar Columnist Liza Howard

Here’s Liza Howard’s favorite nonprofit–that she also runs.

Band of Runners

Band of Runners shares the community of trail running, and the physical and psychological benefits of running in nature with military veterans and their surviving family members. We are an all-volunteer group of long-time trail runners, race directors, and coaches from across the United States who introduce veterans to trail running and open doors to being part of the community at a free trail running camp in the Texas Hill Country over Veterans Day weekend in November each year. Watch this short video to learn more about us. Because we can’t meet this year due to COVID-19 concerns, we’re training 40 veterans to take part in the Badger Trail Series at the end of July of 2021. If you’d like to help us, consider helping us pay for a veteran’s race entry, wearing a Band of Runners shirt, or contacting us to share your talents.

The Band of Runners trail running camp in 2019. Photo: Band of Runners

Nomination from iRunFar Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell shares more about the nonprofit for which he volunteers his time.

Running Rivers

I’ll give a call out to Running Rivers, a nonprofit that combines two of my hobbies–trail running and fly fishing (and three, if we count craft beer)–in the form of “flyathlon” events to help raise funding for freshwater ecosystem rehabilitation and restoration. I believe strongly enough in Running Rivers that I recently joined its board in hopes of putting some of my skills honed at iRunFar to use there. You can donate here.

The start of one of Running Rivers’s flyathlon events. Photo: iRunFar

Nominations from iRunFar Managing Editor Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks has two favored nonprofits.

Girls Gotta Run Foundation

The Girls Gotta Run Foundation is a nonprofit that awards scholarships to girls and young women in several locations in Ethiopia, including the famous running town of Bekoji, to give them elevated access to education, health care, organized run coaching, life-skills development, and more. I was fortunate to travel to Bekoji in 2019 to learn about and participate in the organization’s work, and it was a super-rewarding experience to see how sports can so positively influence other aspects of these girls’ lives. I wrote a series of articles about Girls Gotta Run here on iRunFar. Here’s how you can donate to Girls Gotta Run.

Some of the Girls Gotta Run team training in Ethiopia in 2019. Photo: iRunFar

Running up for Air

Running up for Air (RUFA) is a nonprofit centered around a series of endurance events with the dueling purposes of raising awareness about air-quality issues and funds for organizations working on them. What began as a single fundraising event on a mountain above Salt Lake City, Utah by Jared Campbell has expanded to numerous events of multiple sports across the western United States. Check out this article in UltraRunning Magazine by Sarah Lavender Smith to learn more about RUFA, and then participate in and donate to their causes! I participated in one of these events Utah in early 2020, know Jared personally, and can’t recommend this organization enough.

The air pollution of Salt Lake City, Utah shown during a Running up for Air fundraising event in the winter of 2020. Photo: iRunFar

Call for Comments

To what nonprofit are you giving your time and/or donations in 2020? Leave a comment to share and link to your favorite nonprofit so others can learn about it too!

Sarah Lavender Smith: is a writer, coach, and ultrarunner who lives in Telluride, Colorado. Visit her website to learn more.

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