From a bird’s eye view, a charity run or walk may look like an organization just made an announcement, people showed up, and everything was a big success. But if you’re in charge of getting such an event off the ground, the steps to success start to look very different.

A walk for charity can be a win-win for everyone. Participants can enjoy a day of exercise while supporting their community. Nonprofits can connect with people who might otherwise not know about their mission but love being active.

Whether it’s a virtual or in-person event (or both!), your team can use it to expand your reach and strengthen relationships with existing supporters. 

Don’t be fooled — it can be a lot of work. From creating effective nonprofit marketing to the day-of logistics to following up with thanks to participants, you’ll have plenty of tasks.

The key to hosting a successful charity fun run or walk is to stay organized, delegate tasks, and follow a checklist.

Follow these 6 Steps For Hosting a Charity Run/Walk

Step 1: Start early

A common mistake that nonprofit development teams make is waiting too late to begin the organizational process.

Even if you have many events scheduled during a season, you should be working on your walkathon anywhere from two to six months in advance. There’s a lot to do well before you send out your first event announcement email

Plan the route

The first thing you’ll need to do is lay out the path of your charity run/walk.

Decide first on the length. Five kilometers is a popular distance since it’s relatively easy to run and doesn’t take too long to walk. You may want to offer a 10-kilometer route or even a half or full marathon as well, especially if you live in an active community.

When planning the route, you’ll need to think about:

  • Terrain. Is the route too steep? Does it have a wide sidewalk? Is there a park with trails you can incorporate?
  • Participant safety. You may have to request road closures if there aren’t adequate sidewalks to keep everyone away from traffic.
  • Gathering space. Where will supportive friends and family stand during the event? Is there a place to gather afterward for photos? If you want to include refreshments, where will that be located?

Think about having a theme

While themes aren’t always necessary, a fun name and concept make it easier to create a nonprofit marketing strategy. Themes can be based on the seasons — think about the popular “Turkey Trots” that happen over Thanksgiving weekend — or more cleverly connected to your mission. 

For example, “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” encourages men to wear red high heels in a charity walk to raise money to fight domestic violence.

example of hosting a charity run/walk with a theme
This kind of theme is different enough to attract media attention, which can be free advertising for your charity run/walk. Image source: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Make a fundraising plan

While you can raise money through registrations, charities typically raise the most funds by getting sponsors. You can find sponsorships by reaching out to local businesses or corporations interested in supporting your mission or community. 

Start by determining sponsorship packages. Connect specific benefits to each level of sponsorship. You’ll be more successful if you can clearly articulate what the sponsor will get by participating.

For example: for a $500 donation, a company will get its name and logo on a banner hung at the check-in area; for a $750 donation, a company will get recognition on your website along with their name and logo on a banner hung at the check-in area; and, for a $1,000 donation, a company will receive a donor plaque, recognition on your website, and their name and logo on a banner hung at the check-in area. 

Once you’ve determined sponsorship packages, create a spreadsheet through Google Docs or another cloud-based platform so that volunteers can track who’s been asked for donations and what the sponsor will contribute.  

Take an inventory of your resources

Reach out to your active volunteers and check in with the capabilities of your in-house team. See who is willing and able to put in the necessary time. Then, brainstorm in an initial planning meeting about what you need in comparison to what you have for hosting a charity run/walk. 

Be realistic. If you’re limited in resources, consider making a virtual charity run that will require fewer staff members and volunteers than an in-person event.

Step 2: Keep your fun run logistics in order

Once you have a vision for your event, you’ll want to make sure that your logistics are in order. Visit the municipality where your event will take place and schedule a meeting with an official to make sure you won’t run into unforeseen problems.

Permits and other legalities

If you want to host your charity run in a park, for example, you’ll likely need to apply for a permit from the municipality. You may be required to hire off-duty police officers or submit a blueprint plan for the event. If you need to close off a road, you’ll need to get approval and official assistance. That bureaucratic process can take time.

Transportation

Sometimes, event management requires having transportation available to participants. You may need to have a shuttle bus to bring participants from one end of the course to the other. The more you think through each detail, the fewer surprises you’ll have during the event itself.

Parking

Depending on the number of registrants, you may need to also have a plan for parking. This may require a dedicated volunteer staff to point drivers where to go. Perhaps you can work with a nearby business with a large parking lot to assist. This business should be considered a sponsor for helping with logistics.

Equipment

You’ll need more than a pair of running shoes to pull off this event.

Think about equipment like pop-up tents (in case of rain), barriers for traffic control, signs to show participants the route, and tables for check-in and refreshments along the way.

You may need to rent port-o-potties and bleachers, as well as buy bottles of water. If you want to offer a t-shirt during the registration process, begin creating a logo and design to go along with your theme as soon as possible.

Step 3: Find participants for your charity run/walk

If a walk for charity happens without anyone walking, did it really happen?

While you need to start looking for participants early, first, you need to create an online presence for your event. This should be either a landing page on your website or an entirely new website, depending on the size of your walk for charity. Consider this the epicenter of information, including how to sign up and how to donate even if the viewer cannot attend the event.

Then, point all external announcements to this webpage or website. These invitations can come in the form of: 

  • Announcements and invitations to your email lists
  • Social media posts on your charity’s page as well as personal profiles
  • A new social media event page

For those who you know already support your mission, encourage early registration. This can be in the form of tiered pricing so that they’ll save money by registering early. Another option is encouraging teams — offer your corporate or small business sponsors an opportunity to underwrite the cost of a team of 10, 20, or more participants.

example of hosting a charity run/walk and encouraging team sign ups
The website for the Tough Mudder marathon encourages teams to sign up, and your charity run/walk can too.

Next, expand your nonprofit marketing efforts to include paid advertising campaigns, either through social media, in partnership with a local media source, or pay-per-click ads on a search engine. Reach out to any organizations, such as public radio stations or the local chambers of commerce, that may have event calendars. Brainstorm with your committee about other ways to spread the word.

Remember, you can encourage online donations even from people who don’t want to run. They can donate on behalf of someone who will.

Step 4: Create excitement about your event

While it’s easy to get noticed when you first announce a new event, it’s vital for your success to keep the attention building in the months and weeks leading up to the big day. 

Build excitement while event registration is open

Get creative with your nonprofit marketing plan so that you can post regularly about your charity fun run. Some ideas include:

  • Sharing photos of the route
  • Providing themed costume ideas — remember, this should be fun!
  • Showing “teasers” about food or swag that participants can enjoy
  • Features on social media about sponsors
  • Interviews with participants
  • Tips for training, especially if you are hosting a charity run/walk that’s a half-marathon or full marathon

Keep the excitement going after event registration has closed 

As the event approaches, you’ll need to close off registration so you’ll be able to know exactly how many people will be participating on the big day. That doesn’t mean you should stop communicating with your supporters. 

To keep the excitement going, regularly update your event website. And create a plan to send out emails with information like:

  • Updates about any changes that might impact participants, such as weather
  • A checklist of things to bring
  • Tips to prepare for the charity run/walk
  • A map with parking availability and transportation plans

With all promotional marketing, create a timeline with what you want to share and who will be responsible for sending it. Remember, plan the work so that you can work the plan.

Step 5: Keep communicating on the day of your event

Never have radio silence on the big day. When registering people for the charity walk, request their phone numbers so you can send SMS texts on the day of the event. This will make it easy for them to enjoy the event without worrying about any questions they may have.

SMS updates can include:

  • Last-minute news about the weather
  • Parking availability
  • Route changes, if necessary
  • Emergency information in case of any changes or cancellations.

You won’t have to worry about overdoing communication on the day of the event. People will appreciate that you are keeping them updated with news they want to know. 

Along with keeping in contact with participants, don’t forget about people who may be watching on social media. Consider having an Instagram or Facebook Live video, especially when the first few people come across the finish line. Plan on-the-scene interviews with your CEO or another high-profile participant. Keep posting a variety of updates throughout the day using a unique hashtag for your event.

Remember, the main reason your team has put all this work into a charity run/walk is to spread the word about the important work your nonprofit is doing for the community.

Think of ways you can share heartwarming stories and introduce your work into the day. For example, if your charity works to help stray dogs, perhaps you can have dogs ready for adoption walking alongside participants. 

Have take-away information as part of the welcome package at your check-in table and consider incorporating a silent auction as another way to bring in additional donations during the day.

TIP: A raffle is a great way to collect email addresses to strengthen relationships created at the walkathon. 

Have a schedule of events that includes a formal welcome by your CEO or other “master of ceremonies.” At the end of the run, hold a “medal ceremony.”

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures!

Step 6: What to do after your charity run/walk has ended

Your team will deserve a big pat on the back after doing a great job hosting a charity run/walk because it takes a lot of work. But you’re not done yet!

It’s just as important to communicate after the event as it is to reach out before and during the charity walk. 

Thank you notes

You don’t need to mail out handwritten cards. Use an email template to send a sincere thank you to everyone on the email list who made the day a success. Let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done for the community while sharing news like winners or top donors.

Participant surveys

How did you do, and what can be done better next year?

Instead of guessing, ask the participants directly. Create a short survey to ask what they liked and didn’t like about the event.

It can feel scary to ask directly for honest feedback, but your nonprofit organization will benefit from it. Plus, the participants will feel even more valued, and that will make them want to support your mission even more.

Ask for donations once more

If you’ve done a good job sharing the impact of your organization, you should ask for donations one more time. Your nonprofit development staff should never feel odd about checking back again with supporters. They have a history of support, and they should know exactly how the money is used to help their community. 

If you had a fundraising goal, let them know what it was and how much more is needed to reach the goal. That might be just enough motivation to encourage additional financial support.  

Encourage early registration for next year

If you’ve calculated your return on investment for the event and the committee has decided to do it again next year, it’s never too early to start registration for your next charity run/walk.

Don’t wait until the buzz of excitement from the big day dies away before gauging interest for next year. Perhaps you can offer a free giveaway from sponsors, such as a coupon for a dinner out at a local restaurant or a discount on new running shoes, to entice people to sign up now.

You’re ready to start planning

Hosting a charity run/walk is a great way for nonprofits to get community participation and support for their mission in a healthy, family-friendly way. To be successful, your team of volunteers and in-house development staff should meet as early as possible to begin planning. You’ll appreciate the extra time as you create a marketing plan and work out the logistics for the big day.

To get started, begin researching the other charity fun runs that take place within your community. Look at their routes, check the calendar, and visit their website or web page for the walkathon. Take a critical eye to their work to see how you can improve with your event. When picking a day, make sure there isn’t another competing charity walk taking place on the same day in the same town.

By doing your research and preparing strategy and action steps, you can host a charity run/walk that will bring in donations and strengthen relationships for support in the future, too.