JACKSON — Once a year, Teton County residents fork over the equivalent of $1,000 per person — every man, woman and child — willingly and gleefully.
No, it’s not escalating property taxes. That wouldn’t be “gleefully.”
Old Bill’s Fun Run is a race with no finish line, a marathon of generosity with hundreds of winners. It is one of the most innovative fundraisers in the nation and has been wildly successful in its 26-year run.
And the numbers are astronomical with $228 million raised over the years. The event has grown to the point of pushing the $20 million mark raised each year.
Enthusiastic And Altruistic
The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole organizes the annual event, which has become much more than a race.
True, Old Bill’s has at its core a run/walk element, but anymore it is all about the generous spirit of a vibrant community.
Every second Saturday in September, Jackson turns out for a celebration of philanthropy. From kids to kings, locals empty their piggy banks, open their checkbooks and make contributions to one or more of the community’s 240 registered nonprofits.
The idea was hatched by a local couple that choose to remain anonymous. They are simply referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Old Bill. An avid runner, Mr. Old Bill was inspired to create a community fundraising event centered around a not-so-competitive race.
These days, there are 5K and 10K divisions for youth, men and women. Winners of each race receive prize money to donate to their favorite nonprofits. There is also an untimed run/walk and a highly competitive Diaper Derby.
In 2022, the Fun Run raised $19,957,301 in support of local nonprofits from 4,193 unique donors, an increase of 1.2% over the previous year. In fact, each year, the tote board seems to register higher and higher totals.
Could 2023 Break $20M?
"The success of Old Bill's lies in the spirit of philanthropy —whether you give $5 dollars or $5,000, you are making a difference in the lives of everyone in Teton County through local nonprofits," said Laurie Andrews, Community Foundation president.
Andrews would not speculate on whether the take in 2023 will break the $20 million barrier, but it’s trending that way.
It did not take long for the Teton County community to embrace the charitable model, which allows for targeted giving. Andrews has seen little kids share nickels and dimes from lemonade stand profits. She’s witnessed a $20 bill split 20 ways between a donor’s favorite causes.
The concept aligns values with wallets. Generosity is boosted by numerous co-challengers who donate matching money that helps double a dollar. Mr. and Mrs. Old Bill sweeten the pot every year with a $500,000 ante.
"Over the past 26 years, the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Old Bill and the co-challengers, whose donations support the partial matching funds for participating nonprofits, has inspired increased community giving," Andrews said.
The Community Foundation estimates 1 in 3 county households make a donation through Old Bill’s. The event has raised more than $228 million dollars since its inception in 1997.
Charities Win The Race
Many area nonprofits say they simply could not exist without funding from the Fun Run.
From the community radio station KHOL 89.1FM to the Santa Claus Fund, which bought gift-wrapped toys and clothes for 576 of Jackson’s most deserving children last Christmas, well over 200 area nonprofits have counted on the annual celebration of giving.
“We simply cannot overstate the significance Old Bill's Fun Run plays in the Animal Adoption Center's ability to save the lives of homeless animals,” said executive director Carrie Boynton. “We were able to welcome 379 homeless pets into our adoption program in 2022.
“All of these animals received any necessary medical care, were spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated prior to finding their forever families in the Tetons. We are grateful for this incredible event and the powerful impact it makes in the lives of both animals and people.”
Off Square Theatre is Wyoming's only year-round professional theater company. Every year, the organization produces a full slate of theatrical productions from its residency in Jackson’s Center for the Arts complex.
"The unrestricted funding generated through Old Bill's Fun Run ensures Off Square Theatre can bring high quality live theatre experiences, including free performances and theatre arts education, to our region," education director Sadie Frank said. "We use this funding to support facilities, salaries, and administrative costs allowing Off Square to serve over 5,000 audience members, 150 students, and 50 artists in just the past year."
Old Bill’s Spinoffs
Old Bill’s Fun Run has enjoyed the kind of success that may only be possible in an affluent county like Teton. Still, other communities have contacted organizers about establishing their own versions of the fundraiser.
Sixteen years ago, the Community Foundation helped Teton County, Idaho, set up its own fundraiser called the Tin Cup Challenge. That event just finished its 2023 race, reporting $2.8 million in donations, a 13% increase over 2022 and boosting the cumulative total to $23.6M.