Jeff Sigmon wanted to do something in honor of his 3-year-old niece, who has Down syndrome. And so he signed up for Special Olympics Virginia's "Over the Edge" fund-raiser, pledging to raise at least $1,000 (he raised $2,520) then rappel off of Richmond’s second-highest building, a 25-story slide. The good news is that he helped the event rake in $61,000. But Special Olympics Virginia hired a for-profit production company to put on the event ($24,000) and spent another $2,100 on food and PR materials.
SmartMoney finds that high-profile events like the two-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer often raise staggering totals at a big cost. Of the $58 million that event amassed in 2010, only 48 cents out of each dollar went to breast cancer research; the rest was spent on promoting and staging the trek. One analyst says would-be charity walkers, runners, et al need to decide if they're OK with their funds going to pay for water bottles and posters. Typically, about 50 cents of every dollar raised by special events goes to charity, compared to 80 to 85 cents of money donated to those charities. But there are some exceptions: The American Cancer Society says production costs for its Relay for Life eat up just 8 cents of every dollar raised. (Read more Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation stories.)