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Extraordinary People: Gene Gurkoff, Founder, Charity Miles

by Marissa on July 19, 2012

My friends are incredible people and one day it dawned on me that many of them are doing extraordinary things that I want to tell the world about! I’m excited to kick off the Extraordinary People series with one of my nearest and dearest friends, Gene Gurkoff.

Gene and I go way back to when we first met as freshmen in the dorm at Northwestern University.  He claims I had a huge crush on him then, but I seem to remember it the other way around. In our 10 years of friendship, I’ve known him to undertake anything he does with passion, conviction and pure selflessness from his days as the Harvard Boxing Club team captain to his tireless work for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the 35 endurance races he has completed both on his own and as a guide for disabled athletes. 

A do-gooder at heart, the Harvard Law attorney-turned entrepreneur launched the Charity Miles app earlier this Summer. 

marissa vicario introduces her friend, gene gurkoff, founder of charity miles

1. What is the Charity Miles app?

Charity Miles is a free iPhone/Android app that enables you to earn money for charity by walking, running or biking.

2. How does it work?

Just choose a charity and either walk, run or bike outside.  The app uses your phone’s GPS to measure how far you go.  (Indoor functionality coming soon.)  Runners and walkers earn 25¢ per mile.  Bikers earn 10¢ per mile.  Charity Miles pays the charities, and we are getting corporate sponsors to back us.

Here’s a video showing how it works:

3. What charities are involved so far?

We currently have 9 charity partners that include:

We plan to add more charities as we grow.

4. What inspired you to create the app?

My grandfather has Parkinson’s Disease.  So, over the past ten years I’ve run more than thirty marathons and five Ironman triathlons to raise money and awareness for the disease.  I also helped found Team Fox, the grassroots fundraising arm of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research which, since 2006, has raised over $16 million for the foundation.

When we started Team Fox, part of the idea was to get enough people together so that we’d be able to attract corporate sponsors.  But, unfortunately, that hasn’t been so easy because:

(1) even though companies want to support us, our thousands of Team Fox supporters are not enough of an audience to justify big corporate sponsorships

(2) our supporters aren’t necessarily within the demographics that the companies would ordinarily target with their marketing

(3) as a charity, we are limited (legally and otherwise) in our ability to promote our corporate sponsors.

Over the years, I also started to work with other charities; and I realized that they also faced similar issues with regards to corporate partners.

I created Charity Miles to solve these problems.  By aggregating the supporters from several of the world’s top charities, Charity Miles can offer sponsors a very large, demographically target-able audience.  And, because we are not a charity, we can promote them in ways to help them achieve their marketing objectives.  Each component of the Charity Miles app has a measurable impact that companies are otherwise paying for in the media markets— sponsorship engagement, mobile engagement, email engagement, social engagement.  We can deliver that measurable impact more authentically, more tastefully and less expensively, thereby delivering a measurable ROI.  Again, these companies want to spend their marketing budgets in ways that promote social good.  But they need a measurable ROI to justify it.  We can give them that measurable ROI to help them direct more of their marketing budgets to promote social good.  We call this Pro-Social Media.

Here’s my personal story:

5. How is it different from other apps that log miles?

We are about more than fitness— we’re about empowering you to make a real difference for some very important charities.  That’s our sole focus.  We tell you how far you go and the number of meals you’ve provided to hungry people, or the number of minutes of research you’ve helped fund.  We don’t tell you about your heart rate or calories burned.  If you want to know that stuff, then we encourage you to use another app at the same time as Charity Miles.  (You can run our app simultaneously with others.)

6. How many races have you done?

I’ve run over thirty marathons and five Ironman triathlons.  Training for my sixth Ironman, which I am doing this summer as a guide for an Achilles triathlete who is blind.

7. How much money have you raised for charity for those races?

Not sure how much I raised personally.  But Team Fox has raised over $16 million since we started.

8. Why should people use the app?

To change the world.  Sounds corny, but that’s what we want to do.

9. Anything else we should know?

You might mention how you used to have a big crush on me in college 😉

Download the app for iPhone

Download the app for Android

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What a cool app! He is truly an inspiration to get out there and get involved with more charity organizations!


  1. […] good workout or a volunteer project. With the Charity Miles App, I can get both in the same place. Founded by my long-time friend Gene Gurkoff who is an Ironman and a philanthropist, this app gives me that extra bit of motivation I need when it’s a little too chilly or […]

  2. […] 112 miles and run 26.2 miles (a marathon) all in succession. Special recognition goes to my friend Gene, founder of the Charity Miles app, who served as a guide to Jack Chen, a blind triathlete. Gene and Jack […]

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