October 4, 2018

The man behind a beloved Sacramento race that’s raised over $500k for hospitalized kids

What started as a small campaign to buy a cancer patient an Xbox is now the annual 'Donut Dash' that's raised hundreds of thousands

Zachary Wandell was inspired to start Sacramento's "Donut Dash" after volunteering at a local children's hospital.

Allstate agency owner Zachary Wandell believes in the power of volunteerism and is a longtime volunteer in his Sacramento community. But it was a challenge to make a young patient’s time in the hospital a little more comfortable that led him to launch one of his greatest philanthropic achievements—a charity race that’s raised over a half a million dollars for hospitalized children.

The Donut Dash, which raises money for two local children’s hospitals, just finished its 10th year and has become a local tradition. The premise is simple: participants run four miles and eat four donuts. The concept was so successful that Zach also started The Duck Dash, involving rubber duckies floating down a lazy river, and Scoop Scoot, a Donut Dash except with ice cream. Combined, the three events donated $150,000 to local nonprofits in 2017 and are on pace to surpass that total in 2018.

Zach’s extraordinary commitment to his community earned him this year’s Ray Lynch Award, Allstate’s top national honor that recognizes an agency owner or financial specialist for giving back and improving the lives of those in his or her community. The award is named in the memory of agency owner Ray Lynch, who demonstrated a three-decade commitment to service. In recognition of Zach’s volunteer service, The Allstate Foundation will donate $5,000 to Donut Dash, the 501c3 nonprofit he founded. Donut Dash will use the money to support the many organizations it partners with throughout the Sacramento area, like Sutter’s Children Center and UC Davis Children’s Hospital, and Saint John’s Program for Real Change.

We asked Zach to tell us what inspired him and also to share some tips for setting up a successful fundraising event. Also below, watch a video to learn more about the Donut Dash.

How did you start your community work?

My volunteer work at Sutter Children’s Center started in 2004 but I’ve been helping and volunteering since I was young. As a young Boy Scout and later on a church service mission, I have always enjoyed helping others whenever I could. I like to be actively engaged in good causes and meeting people where they are, not where the world thinks they should be. After I graduated college in 2004, I knew I had the time to volunteer so I became a Child Life volunteer, visiting the hospital pediatrics unit twice a week for 2-3 hours at a time.

What inspired you to do this work?

We all need a helping hand at times, including myself. At different points in my life, I’ve been fortunate to have others help me along. The best way to pay them back is to return the kindness they showed me by helping others.

The inspiration for the events came from a young patient that had cancer. He asked for an XBOX to play video games and the two systems the hospital had were being used by other patients. The original concept of the Donut Dash was for 10 people to each donate $100 so that two systems and some games could be purchased. We exceeded the goal by 50 percent and everyone had so much fun that it became a thing.

How would someone start something like the Donut Dash in their own community?

  • Keep expenses low. Most events fail because costs are too high.
  • Start small. The first year we had 25 people, now we consistently have over 2,500.
  • Focus on the process, not on the outcome. Remember why you’re there and stay connected to the emotional motivation.

What’s one thing you wish you knew in high school?

Don’t think about the past, don’t worry about tomorrow, live today.

What’s your mantra?

Do more!

What do you love about your community?

I love the diversity of the Sacramento area, not just in the people, but in the landscape and nature as well. We have it all here, including more trees per person than any other city in the USA. The people are generous and giving as well, regardless of the cause.

What leader or leaders inspire you?

I’m inspired by those that lead successful organizations while balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of the people. They lead with their mind, and their heart.