LETTER: Events for Charity or Events for Profit? It Matters to Kirklanders


Editor:

On Sunday, May 11th, the Mother’s Day Half Marathon will be held.  In looking at the course map I see that once again I will be pretty much prohibited from leaving or getting back to my home for several hours.  I usually go to the JBAC on Sunday mornings but that will be out also.  I guess we have to share our scenic city with the rest of the Puget Sound area but I am a little bit tired of the several walks, runs, and bicycle events that take place in Kirkland so many times each year.  If indeed they are raising money for worthy causes then I guess it is worthwhile.  However, I have tried to find out how much money was actually raised and turned over to the non-profits after the event and have not been able to do so.  I’m sure I sound like a grumpy old man and I am.  My property taxes pay for the use of the streets and sidewalks and I would like to be able to use them.

Marv Scott

The following response is from the Editor:

Marv,

You have touched on an issue which concerns many of us in Kirkland. I would like to share some observations of my own on this subject, given my in-depth understanding of special events in Kirkland from my vantage as the creative director of Kirkland Summerfest and Kirkland Oktoberfest and as a volunteer for many other community events. We have supported local non-profits like the Lake Washington Schools Foundation, and I am proud of the work we have done in helping improve our community quality of life.

Impact

It is undeniable that special events have a huge impact on Kirkland residents. Special events which close streets and re-route traffic cause the greatest concern. The impact is compounded by the number of special events in Kirkland during our rather short season. As you point out, "if indeed they are raising money for worthy causes then I guess it is worthwhile." I think most folks in town would be surprised to learn that very few events in Kirkland raise much money for nonprofit organizations. Allow me to explain.

Ticketed Events vs Non-ticketed Events

There are basically two types of special events: those which charge an admission fee and those which do not. With few exceptions, ticketed events are run by for-profit organizations and non-ticketed events are run by non-profits. The confusing part is that every special event must list a non-profit as their beneficiary regardless of how much money the non-profit receives. 

Charity runs, walks and bicycle rides like the Turkey Trot, the 7 Hills of Kirkland and the NAMI Walk, benefit worthy causes such as Hopelink, KITH and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These special events are major fundraisers for these non-profits and they benefit greatly from our support. These events are what I would call, "worthy causes."

The Charlatans

Some events in Kirkland pretend to be wonderful benefactors to local non-profits while giving only a token portion of the vast profits made while using our public parks. At a recent tourism meeting, one special event organizer actually didn't even know which non-profit their event was "supporting". For this organizer, the non-profit was merely a cost of doing business in Kirkland. Beware of special events which boast loudly of how much they support non-profit organizations. I can assure you, those special event organizers which boast the loudest are the ones which profit the greatest and actually give, on a percentage basis, the least back to our community.

Which Events Should I Support?

The lesson here is do your homework and don't believe the marketing campaigns you read. The true charity events listed above are good examples of events with the purpose of being fund raisers as opposed to events with the purpose of making a profit for the event organizer.

I would suggest that the following events are worth of support as well as they return 100% of their net proceeds back to Kirkland. These events are run by the non-profit Kirkland Downtown Association (KDA), a volunteer organization.

KDA events which return 100% of their net proceeds back to Kirkland

  • Kirkland Summerfest
  • Kirkland Oktoberfest
  • 4th of July Parade and Fireworks
  • Summer Concert Series (Marina Park and Juanita Beach Park)
  • Kirkland Wednesday Market
  • Holiday Tree Lighting
  • Classic Car Show

Most folks think little about these matters. In fact, most folks think the City of Kirkland produces the above events. In truth, the City supports these events, and the KDA, financially to varying degrees. While there are many events in town, there are some which benefit Kirklanders and some which use Kirkland as a cash machine. I prefer to spend my time and money in support of those events which most benefit our community.

Buyer Beware: Look Behind the Curtain

Every event has its supporters. Pay close attention to who is supporting a given event and ask the questions, "does this person benefit from the event?" "Do their friends benefit from the event?" For certain for-profit events, you will find there is a web of relationships in the old boys (girls) network in Kirkland which has corrupted the events process over the past decade. Unfortunately, special favors and special treatment for powerful people has been the norm at the City Hall. I know all of the players and frankly, most are good, honest people working hard to do the right thing. I refer to the few bad apples pulling strings for their friends. This is a cancer which needs to be stopped.

The laundry list of shenanigans surrounding events in Kirkland over the past decade is as long as the 520 bridge. The bad apples taint the waters for everyone. Even the good events which benefit our city get viewed in a negative light when we look the other way when shenanigans take place.

There are good causes being funded by good special events. Unfortunately, that is not universally the case. Know before you go.