How to Plan an Unforgettable Walk-a-Thon for Your Nonprofit
Rally supporters around your cause with an unforgettable walk-a-thon fundraiser. We’ll share event planning tips that make your fundraising efforts stand out while uniting your community to do good.
Nonprofits host walk-a-thons all the time. With the help of enhanced technology and insights about how today’s donors prefer to engage, your community event will become a can’t-miss.
What Is a Walk-a-Thon?
A walk-a-thon is a fundraising event idea that gets people actively involved. Also known as a walking marathon, these gatherings typically involve event participants completing a designated walking course while supporting a charitable cause. Many nonprofits use walk-a-thons to kick off spring fundraising events and spread awareness.
Online donations are an incredible way for passionate individuals to showcase charitable behavior. However, there’s something undeniable about interacting with an organization on an intimate level at an in-person event.
What is the purpose of a walk-a-thon?
A walk-a-thon presents plenty of opportunities to create a lasting impact. When executed strategically, in-person fundraising events can leave a lasting impression on donors that inspires them to become more deeply involved in your community.
Walk-a-thons are also simple and inexpensive and leave endless room for creativity. For example, mental health organizations might create a positive intention for each mile along the course. Environmental organizations could incorporate sustainability ideas on T-shirts that participants wear along the track.
Simply put, there’s a lot you can do with your walk-a-thon to make it a unique experience for event participants. It’s a time to collect donations and share stories reinforcing why those contributions matter and the good that’s possible with them.
How long are walk-a-thons?
Standard walk-a-thon events are 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles), depending on your location and the walking areas you can access safely.
If participants receive pledges that link donations to miles walked, you might consider a longer distance. You can also choose a shorter length if it helps attract a larger crowd.
How does a walk-a-thon event make money?
Participants register for a fixed fee and may also want to raise funds through a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. This allows you to capture the support of those walking, as well as the friends and family of those individuals who want to donate to their page.
Donors can also pledge a certain amount of money per distance increment to a participant they’re supporting. It’s a fun way to motivate people while simultaneously getting you closer to your fundraising goal.
Either way, people enjoy giving to their peers, as 64% of U.S. donors have been donating to individuals raising money on behalf of a nonprofit for over three years according to Classy’sWhy America Gives Report. Adding a peer-to-peer element to your walk-a-thon can help expand your reach and build a steady stream of donations.
How Do You Plan a Walk-a-Thon?
Typical steps to plan a walk-a-thon include:
- Defining your fundraising goals and budget
- Determining how many participants you need to reach those goals
- Choosing a date, time, and location
- Picking a walk-a-thon theme (if applicable), like a turkey trot, color run, or Halloween costume-themed event
- Recruiting volunteers for the day of the event (e.g., tending water stations, distributing medals, collecting day-of donations, etc.)
- Designing a course and finish line with necessary approvals from your local city, parks, or other locations, like elementary schools
- Distributing safety waivers for all attendees to complete before the event
- Equipping your team with fundraising event software and a peer-to-peer fundraising platform
- Setting up an event landing page and donation page template for all individual fundraising pages to use as a foundation
- Launching your social media event marketing strategy across multiple platforms
What are the most important elements of walk-a-thons?
To stand above the rest, your walk-a-thon needs to go beyond the basics. Here’s a list of considerations to help you offer the best experience.
Choose an optimal format: Create a walk-a-thon that’s completely virtual, in-person, or a hybrid mix of both. Think about who you want to reach and how to make your event widely accessible.
Motivate participants to fundraise: Allow participants to set their own personal fundraising goal at or above the minimum amount required by your organization. If they want to participate but can’t afford the event registration fee, it’s great to offer the option for participants to fundraise to cover that amount. This removes pricing as a deterrent to their participation. It also opens your community event to those who can’t actively participate but want to support someone close to them who can.
Consider a livestream: Think about which elements of your walk-a-thon might be engaging for an online audience. Bringing your event to those who can’t attend in person presents an entirely new way to garner online donations through Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You might capture footage of each participant crossing the finish line or share video of any performances or special guests you have at the event. That video content is also gold when you’re planning future promotions.
Think about corporate sponsorship opportunities: Deploy corporate sponsorships as one way to bring your event to new heights. Maybe it’s through in-kind donations that offer participants swag as they walk or through a monetary gift that takes your fundraising effort to a level you wouldn’t be able to achieve alone. Entice local businesses or your biggest partners with exposure to their brand and a feature on your event page and promotions.
How do you promote a walk-a-thon?
Your walk-a-thon promotions should align with your larger nonprofit marketing strategy, but it’s best to include a few personalized elements to build excitement.
Tap into social networks: Social media is a perfect place to announce your walk-a-thon and provide regular updates. Consider what might pull in your Gen Z and Millennial participants, who are 2.7x as likely to host an individual fundraising page on behalf of an organization than other generations.
Post flyers in local businesses: You might find eager walk-a-thon participants in places like gyms, spas, parks, or other places that promote an active lifestyle. Advertising your event in these spots can help draw in new donors who would love to get moving for a good cause.
Get your participants to spread the word: People love to support others, and 71% of donors say the top way they learn about a new cause is through friends and family members. Lean into that by giving registrants a promotion kit to share your walk-a-thon with their community. This kit might include:
- Premade social media graphics
- Value points and incentives to share
- A list of easy ways to optimize your individual fundraising page
How Can Nonprofits Incentivize Donors at Walk-a-Thon Events?
Once you’ve motivated people to participate in your fun event, it’s time to engage them from start to finish of your walk-a-thon.
Implement a fundraising thermometer: Have a live display of fundraising progress throughout the day, with everyone’s contributions playing a role. You can also create a plan to celebrate key milestones, like achieving 50% of your goal.
Make it easy to donate from any device: Make it easy for donors to complete a donation form or sign-up for a recurring donation on any device with any payment method they prefer. You can offer the link to your donation site through a creative QR code on the course signage and your event website. After all, 68% of donors who support an individual participating in a fundraising event, such as a walk-a-thon, will follow up with repeat donations to that individual.
Include prizes and physical swag: Give participants a fun takeaway to help keep your organization top of mind even after the event. You can offer incentives for people to walk a certain distance or raise more among their communities with prizes that feature your branding, like hats, shirts, trophies, water bottles, and more.
Offer fundraising match programs: Involve a company-matching gift incentive for employees participating in your walk-a-thon or other endurance events. This strategy offers an easy way for supporters to double the amount they raise for your cause. You’ll get to see how much an employee raises and the amount their company will match to increase the total.
Here are two examples of how fundraising match programs can work:
- Penguin Random House matches up to $1,500 per employee, per calendar year, for money raised by employees for qualifying fundraising events, including walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons, and 5K events.
- McAfee Corp. offers individual employee matches at a 1:1 ratio and fundraising matches at the same ratio, with a combined $1,000 company matching limit per employee participating in a nonprofit’s events or making another type of donation throughout the year.
Unite Your Community Around a Walk-a-Thon Fundraiser
If you’re ready to kick off your successful walk-a-thon, we can’t wait to support you with the software you need. Simplify the administrative tasks of planning a great fundraiser and focus on the creative ideas that make your event stand tall with Classy Live.
Classy Live offers event fundraising software that seamlessly integrates the peer-to-peer element and enhances user experiences that make a walk-a-thon memorable.
“Why America Gives,” Classy, November 2022, https://www.classy.org/why-america-gives/
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