As with any fundraising event you’re planning, hosting a walkathon, bikeathon, runathon, or any type of similar experience will take some planning, preparation, and yes—some perspiration!
Putting together an “-athon” fundraising event is no walk in the park. With new tools and digital solutions, what are the best ways to engage and motivate your participants? With the rising popularity of virtual events, you can even pivot your “-athon” event to take place entirely online!
Whether in-person or virtual, your walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon can be conquered with the help of great planning and a dedicated fundraising and event toolkit. With this step-by-step guide, planning your event should be as intuitive as hopping back on a bike!
Take a quick peek at the steps for hosting a walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon fundraiser:
- Assemble a Leadership Team for Your Fundraising Event
- Select a Date, Time, and Location
- Secure Sponsorships
- File Necessary Event Paperwork
- Create Registration and Donation Forms
- Design T-Shirts for Your Event Participants
- Spread the Word About Your Fundraiser
- Have Volunteers Show Up Early
- Walk, Bike, Run, Have a Great Time!
- Thank Your Participants
You can click through to the step that most interests you, but we recommend you follow along from the top to not miss out on any key points. On your mark, get set, go plan a fundraiser!
Step 1: Assemble a Leadership Team for Your Fundraising Event
Among the first things you’ll need to do when you’re planning any type of fundraising event—whether it’s a walkathon, bikeathon, charity auction, benefit concert, or what-have-you—is assemble a leadership team.
What exactly is a leadership team?
To put it simply, a leadership team will consist of the people that do the bulk of the behind-the-scenes work. They’re the movers and the shakers who get the majority of the dirty work and planning done (with the gracious help of volunteers, of course).
For most events, there will be three levels of leadership:
- The Planning Committee
- The Host Committee
- Volunteers and Other Staff
The Planning Committee
At the top of the pyramid will be your planning committee. These are the folks that are in charge of getting everything off the ground.
They’ll decide and organize aspects of the walkathon or bikeathon, such as:
- When and where you’ll host it
- Whether it will be in-person or virtual
- Who will be sponsoring it
- What the budget will be
- And whom to invite
When the initial details are in place, the planning committee will pass their baton to the host committee (also known as the “Event Committee”).
The Host Committee
Once the host committee has the torch, they should hit the ground running.
In essence, these dedicated volunteers, board members, and staff members are the ones that handle the actual fundraising for the event.
They’ll be charged with seeking donors, talking with participants, and encouraging members of their personal and professional networks to get involved.
Then, on the day of the walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon, they’ll gladly hand the mic over to the emcees and coordinators of the actual event.
Volunteers and Staff
Throughout the event planning process, your entire leadership will rely on the know-how and hard work of volunteers and staff.
That being said, your volunteers and any remaining staff members (who weren’t the major players in either of the first two committees) are going to shine on the day of the event.
If your event is in-person, these key figures will be:
- Manning the registration table
- Passing out water to participants
- Making last-minute name tags
- Cleaning up afterward
- And so much more!
For a virtual event, your volunteers and staff should use your online fundraising tools to:
- Engage with participants through live-stream
- Give shoutouts to top supporters through social media
- Assist with any tech support
However large your walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon may be, it’s important to have a solid base of several volunteers and staff members who are willing to put in that extra effort for your cause.
The point is: To see your “-athon” event through to the end, you’re going to need the help of a planning committee, an event committee, and a number of dedicated staff members and volunteers.
Step 2: Select a Date, Time, and Location
Now that you have your leadership teams lined up, it’s crucial to solidify the major details of the walkathon or bikeathon.
First things first, you’ll want to take a look at your organization’s calendar.
Most walkathons, bikeathons, and runathons take roughly 6-8 months to plan and execute.
If you’re wanting to host a Turkey Trot in November, you may want to start planning between March and May. Or, you could look at it the other way: if you start planning now, you’ll want to pick your date about 6 months out.
In either case, give yourself enough time to arrange all of the details, market your fundraiser, and work out any last-minute kinks. This is true for both in-person and virtual events.
Once you’ve settled on a date, you can work on finalizing a time.
Since “-athons” are typically daytime events, your window of possibility is narrowed down to the morning or afternoon.
Also, depending on the season, you may want to adjust your timing. In the winter months, the days will be considerably shorter.
To be safe, plan the event for mid-morning—preferably on a Saturday or Sunday so those who work during the week can attend.
If you’re hosting a virtual event, it might be a good idea to offer participants a longer time span of when they can complete the event. This way, those from different time zones and countries can still participate!
With tentative dates and times in mind, it’s time to start exploring locations.
The location of your “-athon” event will depend on how long (distance wise) your event is.
There’s no set standard for how long your “-athon” event should be, but they usually range from 5K to 10K. Some of these events take a sponsorship style approach, where people pledge a set dollar amount for each mile a participant runs, walks, or bikes. This is common for bikeathon events!
If this is an in-person event, many organizations choose to make their walkathons, bikeathons, and runathon complete loops.
In that case, participants start out at the registration table, take off walking in one direction, and end up walking in a complete circle around town, only to end up right back at the registration table.
If, however, you choose not to create a closed circuit, it’s entirely possible to pull off a successful walkathon or bikeathon where participants travel from one point to another. You’ll need to prepare participants ahead of time so that they can make the proper arrangements for transportation.
In addition to choosing a route for the event, you will also want to take into consideration the cost of certain venues.
You can find quite a few fundraising event venues that will host a walkathon or bikeathon free of charge. That being said, many places may charge more depending on the month, day, and time of your event.
For virtual events, you likely don’t have to find a physical venue. Instead, consider how your participants can complete the event on their own.
Many online “-athon” fundraising events will have the participant choose their own course, with some device tracking their distance to ensure that their effort is recognized. Consider providing attendees with a distance tracking tool beforehand, and encourage them to post updates on social media with a dedicated hashtag as they reach various milestones.
You can also ask your virtual attendees to share their routes on Google Maps with the other participants, resulting in an interactive map that shows everyone’s path.
A virtual experience can help you cut costs, while still providing a similar experience. Choosing to livestream the event on social media is also a great way to spread the word and attract potential supporters!
The point is: There are several factors to consider when choosing a time, date, and place to host your event, whether in-person or virtual. Before you commit to anything, be sure you’ve thought each factor through!
Step 3: Secure Sponsorship for your Walkathon, Bikeathon, or Runathon
As soon as you’ve finalized a date, time, and place, your organization should begin to look for sponsorships.
First of all, let’s take a step back and examine precisely what sponsorships are and why they’re so crucial for hosting a successful event, whether both in-person or virtual.
Sponsorships involve a business or individual with means to support an event— through monetary contributions or by donating major goods and services.
In exchange, sponsors get prime advertising real estate on T-shirts, posters, and other promotional materials.
It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.
Because they’re so critical for fundraising events like walkathons, we’re going to go step-by-step through the process of securing a sponsor:
Step 1: Decide on the kinds of businesses that fit your needs
Deciding on the kinds of businesses that fit your needs is arguably the hardest step of the process.
It helps to start by looking into local businesses in your area. Try to find places that have a history of philanthropy.
That being said, you don’t want to waste any efforts on companies that are spreading themselves too thin.
Find the sweet spot where the business wants to help a good cause but isn’t committed to too many charities already. Businesses with similar missions to yours should also be top candidates!
Step 2: Figure out their marketing and promotion goals
Sponsorships aren’t totally free. They come at a cost to your organization.
Luckily that cost is usually just promotion-related.
In order to gauge the sort of exchange you’ll need to make, it’s important to figure out prospective sponsors’ marketing and promotion objectives.
When you’re contacting potential sponsors, be sure to ask your points of contact about their marketing goals.
For example, what audience are they looking to reach? What kind of message are they trying to send about their company?
These types of questions will help you assess the goals and objectives that your prospective sponsors have.
Step 3: Know what else you can offer a potential sponsor
As soon as you know what your prospective sponsors’ marketing and promotion goals are, you can begin to figure out what it is that you can offer them.
Do you have members that are a part of their key audience? Are you going to have a wide reach when it comes to social media? If the event is virtual, what online platforms will you be depending on?
Once you’ve landed on a set of benefits that you have to offer a sponsor, you can take a look at your calendar and pick a time to pitch.
Step 4: Pick a time to pitch your sponsors
Scheduling can be a sticky business. You’re planning an event, running an organization, and balancing what feels like a thousand plates at a time.
Your potential sponsors are also incredibly busy running a business!
You want to give your organization time to get all of your ducks in a row.
That’s why it’s crucial to schedule your pitch at least a couple of months in advance of when you’d actually need funding.
Step 5: Investigate the key players at the business
At the same time that you’re dabbling with schedules and trying to figure out the best time to have a meeting, it’s also important to assess who the key players at the business are.
For this, it helps to have someone on the inside who can tell you who has the most authority to sign off on a sponsorship— and who would be the most likely to do so.
Step 6: Craft your offer and practice your pitch
After you’ve picked a time and date and figured out with whom you’ll be speaking, it’s finally time to start crafting your offer and practicing your pitch.
Make sure you keep your pitch short, sweet, and to the point. Emphasize what your sponsor will be getting out of this deal, and don’t be shy about expressing the needs of your organization.
Let your potential sponsors get a sense of the good that their sponsorship could help achieve.
Of course, don’t forget to practice. A smooth presentation comes only with persistent preparation.
Step 7: Make the pitch!
All of your research and hard work has led up to this point: making the pitch!
On the day of the meeting, check to make sure that you have everything you need to make a pitch.
Have copies on hand of any documents you’d like to share with your prospective sponsors.
Run through your powerpoint or notecards one last time to work out any final glitches or stumbling points.
Most importantly, be confident!
The point is: There are several steps involved with securing a sponsorship. Make sure you find businesses that suit your needs. Offer them something in exchange, and craft a well-thought-out pitch.
Step 4: File Necessary Event Paperwork
Any good fundraising event checklist will encourage you to fill out any necessary paperwork that might pertain to your event.
For some events, that means looking into health code regulations, making sure that you have the proper permits, and following relevant guidelines in order to sell or serve food.
As far as events like bikeathons and walkathons go, it’s important to research not only the kind of paperwork your organization will need to fill out and file, but also the types of waivers and forms that participants may need to sign.
Since these events are physical activities (and as such, inherently dangerous), you will almost certainly need to have all of your participants fill out and sign liability waivers.
You can never be too careful when it comes to hosting an event, even if it’s a virtual one. It’s better to err on the safe side by drawing up waivers releasing your organization of any liability in the event of injury or accident.
Most waivers are:
- Less than a page
- Easy to find online
- Simple to copy
In addition to waivers, your organization may also need to look into what local authorities, like the police and fire department, require of an event like a bikeathon or walkathon.
If you’re hosting your event on public property, you might have to fill out some liability paperwork or keep your event under a certain size.
It’s really up to the local authorities, so make sure you give them a call to sort everything out. You can even acquire their help in directing traffic around the event.
The point is: In order to keep everyone safe and happy at your walkathon or bikeathon, your organization will need to distribute waivers to every participant and file any requisite forms with local authorities.
Step 5: Create Registration and Donation Forms
Before you can get your event off the ground, you’ll have to create registration and donation forms.
Luckily, Qgiv provides everything your organization will need when it comes to online and mobile registration and donation forms.
A great registration or donation form, as you may or may not know, is typically:
- Fully customizable and personalized
- Mobile-responsive and mobile-friendly
- Shareable via email and social media
- Easy-to-use and uncluttered
- Consistently branded
When it comes to your event, your organization will definitely want to have a unique registration and donation page— one that’s easily recognizable and easy-to-use.
Having an unbranded, cluttered, unresponsive registration or donation form could mean the difference between 20 people signing up and 2,000 people pledging.
Take the above event page as an example. The information is clearly stated, and the page is branded to the nonprofit.
Your organization’s registration page and donation form can be that awesome, too! To learn more about how your organization can register more participants on the move, check out this complete guide to mobile fundraising.
The point is: Registration forms and donation pages are vital to any event fundraiser. Ensure that anyone can sign up and donate from anywhere, and at any time, by creating online and mobile registration and donation pages.
Step 6: Design T-Shirts for Your Walkathon, Bikeathon, or Runathon Participants
Remember that fundraiser you participated in back in 2010? You probably still have the T-shirt you got for participating.
Sure, it probably has a few holes in it now, and it’s almost definitely faded and shrunken a bit. But all of those signs of wear are really just signs of love.
You loved being a part of that event and making a difference. And you really loved having a badge of honor to show for it, proof that you were there and contributed to making the world a better place.
As you’re planning your own next event, it’s important to keep this in mind. Whether your walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon is in-person or virtual, providing a fun memento will make the experience all the more special. So where do you get started?
First things first, find an apparel company or website that fits your budget and needs.
Once you’ve found a site or shop that works for you, decide on the types of apparel you want to offer participants.
If you’re hosting a bikeathon or walkathon in the winter, you might consider choosing a long-sleeved option. Conversely, if you’re throwing a fundraiser in the middle of July, you’ll most definitely want to go for a cooler option, like a light-weight tee.
With the type of clothing decided upon, the next step is designing it!
Your organization will likely want to highlight key sponsors on the back of the shirt, as per any agreements you may have made.
The front of the shirt is entirely up to you. Make sure that it communicates what your fundraiser is all about, while still being easy-on-the-eyes!
The point is: Designing shirts for your walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon is an excellent way to help commemorate your fundraiser and give participants something to show off for years to come!
Step 7: Spread the Word About Your Fundraiser
All of the planning is now under your belt, so now it’s time to start promoting your event! One of the best ways to get the word out about your upcoming fundraiser is through peer-to-peer fundraising participants.
Peer-to-peer fundraising usually involves an organization enlisting the help of its supporters to spread the news about a fundraiser to their own personal and professional networks.
Your volunteer peer-to-peer participants will typically reach out to:
- Social media followers
In turn, those friends and family members may even extend invites to their own social network connections. Before you know it, you’ve set off a domino effect and your fundraising event has reached more people than you ever imagined.
In case you’re interested in reading more about peer-to-peer fundraising and what it can do for your nonprofit, be sure to take a look at Qgiv’s comprehensive guide.
Of course, in addition to employing peer-to-peer fundraising, your organization may also want to try your hand at other methods of raising awareness.
Methods such as:
- Taking out an ad in the local paper,
- Creating an event page on Facebook,
- Sending out an email blast to your contacts,
- Tweeting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting,
- Calling up local media to make a press release,
- And any other methods that have worked in the past!
Don’t limit yourself to just one tactic. Run the gamut from traditional to all-the-way-out-there to see the best and broadest results.
The point is: Marketing a walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon is crucial for its ultimate success. Be sure that you’re diversifying your approach and exploring new options for promoting your event.
Step 8: Have Volunteers Show Up Early
It’s finally the day of the event. Everything you’ve been working toward the past few months culminates in this one day.
For an in-person event, have your volunteers show up to the event location as early as you think is necessary. You might want to have certain types of volunteers show up at different times, depending on their duties.
For instance, those who are manning the registration table should show up at least 30 minutes to an hour early. Volunteers who are setting up the route with markers should ideally show up a couple of hours in advance to lay everything out.
That being said, you may also have volunteers whose sole job it is to help clean up or help with the celebration at the end.
For a virtual event, it’s a good idea to connect with your volunteers and staff members online before it officially starts.
This way, you ensure that everyone is on the same page, knows their roles, and can troubleshoot any technical problems.
A final note about your volunteers: They’re passionate and dedicated to your cause. Be sure to express your gratitude for them appropriately (more on thanking your participants later!).
The point is: It’s best to have your volunteers show up a couple of hours before the kick-off time, ensuring you’re fully prepared for anything.
Step 9: Walk, Bike, Run, Have a Great Time!
As we mentioned in the previous step, you’ve worked long and hard to get to this point. It’s 100% okay to celebrate and enjoy the event!
In fact, it’s highly encouraged. When your participants see you enjoying yourself and getting into the event, they’re bound to feel more enthusiastic themselves.
Imagine this scenario. Dozens of attendees are showing up, whether in-person or through video online. They’re ready to go with their walking shoes, T-shirts, and bikes.
But because you’ve been planning and arranging (and let’s be honest, rearranging) everything for so long, you’re no longer excited about the event. Even worse, your negative mood can rub off on excited attendees!
Luckily, this situation is entirely avoidable.
All it takes is stepping back from the event for a moment and assessing the reasons you’re there to begin with. It was your passion for the cause that brought you to plan a fundraiser in the first place. Tap into that sentiment on the day of the walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon to renew your excitement.
In order to show this excitement through a virtual event, consider livestreaming your and your volunteers’ point of view and providing commentary on your participants’ progress. You can even put together a fun Spotify playlist that everyone listens to together!
Be sure to express your gratitude and excitement around your participants. Joy is contagious, after all.
The point is: The best way to ensure that your participants have a great time is to have a great time yourselves.
Step 10: Thank Your Participants
Speaking of gratitude and excitement, let’s take a moment to talk about thanking your event participants.
Don’t forget the #1 rule when it comes to thanking event fundraiser participants, for both in-person or virtual events. Send your sincere gratitude within the first 48 hours following the walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon.
If you wait any longer than that to send out thank you letters, emails, and phone calls, people will start to suspect that you’ve dropped the ball.
52% of people who have left a nonprofit, whether they quit donating, unsubscribed from emails, or stopped attending meetings, cited their reasoning as a lack of communication and gratitude.
In essence, they weren’t being thanked!
To avoid it, all your nonprofit needs to do is stay on top of your acknowledgments. As soon as the event is over, start crafting your thank you letters.
If you’re worried that snail mail may be as slow as its name suggests, you can also shoot out a quick “Thank you” email blast.
Some fundraising software platforms even allow you to send out automatic acknowledgements after participants have:
- Completed a pledge.
Phone calls are another great way to reach out personally to your dedicated walkers, bicyclists, and runners. However you choose to follow up, just make sure you do so in a timely manner.
For more info on following up with your participants, take a look at these helpful fundraising letter templates.
The point is: Not only is it crucial to follow up and thank your event participants, it’s also extremely important to do so within the first 48 hours.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how to host a walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon. Take it all one step at a time, and you’ll get to the finish line in no time at all.
What are you waiting for? Your boots were made for fundraising!
Learn more about how to plan the best walkathon, bikeathon, or runathon fundraising event by exploring some of our own clients’ stories:
- Pensacola Humane Society’s Paws on Palafox walk. The 2018 Paws on Palafox walk raised over $44,000— $20,000 more than the previous year! To prepare, the PHS frequently posted on social media about it and ran fundraising contests with incentives.
- The Purple Plunge event is an annual fundraiser focused on helping local families affected by cancer. Similar to “-athon” events, participants undergo an event together, but instead of running, it’s an icy dip in the lake. Once everyone has emerged from the lake, the crowd heads up to a large canopy area to take part in a post-plunge party and auction.
- NuPath Inc.’s annual Walk the Walk event. With key planning and a trusty platform, NuPath raised 142.5% of its $75,000 goal during the 2016 Walk the Walk!