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Posted on Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Champions For Charity expands nonprofit fundraising model, may launch Ann Arbor marathon

By Laura Blodgett


Runners line up at the start of the 10-kilometer race at October's Big House Big Heart event, which is organized by Champions For Charity LLC.

Joseph Tobianski |

Champions For Charity LLC, best known for hosting runs like Big House Big Heart, recently got a new home.

The company recently moved into downtown Ann Arbor office space at 320 W. Washington Street near the YMCA. Previously, Champions For Charity operated out of the home of Ann Arbor residents Andrea and Mike Highfield, who founded the organization in 2009 to raise funding for multiple charities by hosting large, high-profile events.

Andrea Highfield was working at Ann Arbor athletics store Running Fit as marketing director in 2006 when she and her husband organized the first Big House Big Heart event. The run was originally formed to raise awareness for ALS research to support Mike Highfield’s law partner Phil Bowen, who died from the disease.

Since then, Champions For Charity has carved out a niche business model, growing to 10 employees and nine races, including the Ann Arbor Firecracker 5K in downtown Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot at Hudson Mills Metropark and the Heart of Detroit Run/Walk at Comerica Park.

Champions For Charity organizes and executes special events, allowing nonprofits to focus their efforts on fundraising with 100 percent of pledges going to the charitable cause.

This year 175 local nonprofits raised $1.5 million during the Big House Big Heart race alone.

“There aren’t any other groups out there that have put together this whole way of raising money for nonprofits —it’s fairly complicated,” said Andrea.

Champions For Charity secures sponsorships and entry fees to cover the operating costs of running the events, Andrea said.

The group's goal is to raise $150,000 in total sponsorships in 2012.

“We’re doing it because that is our mission to help nonprofits make money,” Andrea said. “Their funding is less and less all the time and they have to be more and more creative all the time. We make no money off any of the non profits or charities.”

Champions For Charity hopes to help charities raise $3 million in 2012. Highfield admits it's a lofty goal since the group has helped charities raise about $2 million so far in 2011.

However, it may be possible with the company starting two new runs in Ann Arbor next year: an Ann Arbor marathon to be held on June 17 as well as resurrecting the Big 10 Run on Sept 23, 2012.

The company is currently meeting with city officials to plan the race routes.

“My vision for the Big 10 Run is to start and finish at Burton Tower right on the Diag,” said Mike Highfield, who recently retired as a partner with the law firm of Conlin, McKenney & Philbrick in Ann Arbor.

Champions For Charity would like the marathon to stay within the city of Ann Arbor if possible.

“One thing that is clear is that we would start at the northwest corner of Stadium, which has the most beautiful view of Ann Arbor. You can see the entire campus and Main Street area," Highfield said.

The trail may extend from Geddes Avenue and Huron Parkway out to Gallup Park.

“What we’re trying to do right now is do a really good job with the races on this year’s schedule, see if we can grow them, work with the nonprofits to help develop their ability to raise money, and then, we wouldn’t mind doing some out-of-state races in a few years,” said Highfield.

Laura Blodgett is a freelance reporter for



Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:46 a.m.

I'm really having trouble understanding why they would pick this date, given that the wonderful Dex/Ann Arbor half is two weeks earlier and that mid June is somewhat iffy given the potential for hot/humid weather. I'm all for more area races but I've tried to do a half two weeks prior to a marathon (Brooksie/Detroit) and it's not enjoyable given the worry that one wrong step or pushing it too much might ruin 3 months of training. think the area would be better served with a late April marathon, but that's just me.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:14 a.m.

As long as the start time is early enough, I'm fine with a June marathon. Besides, it's Michigan - who knows what the weather is likely to be like... More importantly, what will be the fate of the fabled and traditional Dexter/Ann Arbor Half Marathon?

Skip G

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 : 2:21 a.m.

Isn't this the same group that was running the Dexter to A2 half marathon last year? This would definitely cannibolize one of the events and kind of a jerk move since they're not running Dexter race this year. What would the course look like too?


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

June 17th sounds rather close to the normal date for the Dexter-Ann Arbor half-marathon, which in my opinion is the area's premier running event. That said, both the Firecracker 5K and the BHBH were well-organized and I'm sure a marathon by the same people would be high-quality. And there's already plenty of fall marathons (the traditional time in cold-weather states like Michigan), so maybe the date makes sense.


Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

Champions for Charity has done a great job organizing races. I have enjoyed every race I have run with them. Although June is a warm month for a marathon the race schedule is pretty full from April through May. The Dexter to Ann Arbor race is always the first weekend of June. So a June 17 marathon could deter some runners, I for one would look forward to it.


Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

It's a nice idea, but I think mid-June isn't the right time for a marathon in this area. Anything later than mid-May is risking a marathoner's worst nightmare, warm/hot weather. It's especially dangerous in the spring because most people aren't acclimated to the warmer weather yet. If it's not schedule in April or early May, I'll never run it. There's too much training involved to risk having it spoiled by warm weather. In any case, I wish them luck.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Running in the 60s or 70s might be okay for a few miles. Most marathoners would definitely prefer 40s or 50s, though.

Tex Treeder

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 2:19 a.m.

I prefer the 70s when I run, but I could compromise on something in the 60s. Any colder and you can count me out.


Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 7:51 p.m.

@LauraM I'm glad you can handle the heat. I prefer temps in the 40's, I think most marathoners would pick the 50's. By mid-June in Ann Arbor, odds are people will be running in the 60's or 70's.


Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

Warm and hot weather is this marathoners wish!! I hate freezing when I run a longer race which is why I will never do an early spring marathon or half again unless it's in Florida!


Sun, Nov 27, 2011 : 11:37 a.m.

I recall an effort several years ago by a local attorney and runner to start a marathon in Ann Arbor. I heard he ran into an incredible amount of red tape and obstructionist attitude. Best wishes to Mike and Andrea! Let's hope the powers that be in Ann Arbor show they are truly Champions with Big Hearts this time.