Planning a successful walkathon is easy if you are organized and have a checklist. Walks are fantastic fundraisers for a number of reasons. Anyone can participate. Young, old, people who are in top physical condition and even people in wheelchairs can come and support your organization. It’s so democratic and inclusive. Plus, more people means more people fundraising if you use a walkathon format, which I highly recommend. Walks can also be fun and are good exercise too.
Here’s a 4-month “project plan” and checklist for organizing a professional caliber and sustainable walkathon fundraiser. Much of this can also apply to a organizing a 5K or short road race too.
Upfront planning is critical to success. There are a lot of small and large details that when done early in the planning process, can save you a lot of time and avoid many issues.
Build your team
This is probably the most important step. Your team should include staff and volunteers. It’s important to build a team with diverse skills. The most successful teams include people that:
- Can successfully solicit companies for sponsorship money
- Are comfortable talking to town halls and police for permits
- Are able to secure in-kind donations for t-shirts and food
- Have proven success as project managers
- Pay great attention to detail
- Obtain permits from Town Hall or Campus
- Call the police department to set up police detail if that is necessary
- Ask the town if a Certificate of Liability is required. If yes, call your insurance company to get one
- Develop a corporate sponsor packet.
- Develop a cover letter for sponsor packet.
- Create multiple sponsorship opportunities. Get creative. Create high level sponsors, mile sponsors, sign sponsors, etc.
- Decide what you will offer sponsors in return for their sponsorship. For example, placement of logo on signage and web site. Maybe also a feature story in an e-newsletter.
- Create list of sponsorship leads to approach.
- Obtain logos from sponsors that you close (this is ongoing).
Begin the process of recruiting media partners and celebrity chairperson. Often, a local newspaper or even radio station will run a story on your walk. It probably won’t drive thousands of people to your walk, but it is a nice feather in your cap that you can include in a sponsorship packet to add some credibility to your effort.
- Develop and send “Save-the-Date” mailings to your database.
- Research local media and their requirements regarding the submission of press releases.
- Write and submit a press release. Here’s some help with press releases
- Set up online walkathon website. Depending on your fundraising goals, there are many options to choose from. Don’t spend too much! This is the first year. Cap your software spending at $3000 – $5000. With this amount you should be able to get something that allows you to get accept donations online, allow individuals to track progress on their own editable profile pages, and provides staff with detailed reports and metrics on fundraising and usage that will come in handy this year and next!
- Publicize on your website, Facebook group, blog, upcoming.org, google calendar and every other free site.
- Develop an In-kind request letter.
- Get Breakfast food donated if necessary. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have always been good to us.
- Get Lunch donated for everyone if necessary. Big supermarket chains are actually great for this. Just give your local supermarket a call.
- Find Raffle Items that you could use to raise a little more money
- Try to get someone to donate signage. If not, go online for the best deals. We’ve had good luck with the Victory Store for lawn signs that are placed along the route.
- Get T-Shirts. Don’t break the bank if you can’t get this donated but sending people home with something that they will likely use again is a good idea for future walks.
- Free printing if possible. If not, check out Vistaprint for some inexplicably good deals.
- Ask someone to bring their grill so you can barbecue.
- Do you need Port-o-pods at the start location and along the route? If your walk is in a more urban setting, ask a couple of businesses along the route if your walkers could use their restrooms in lieu of a sponsorship.
- Entertainment at the start location. Walks are great family events. Get a moonwalk, recruit people to face paint for the kids, or hire an entertainer to make do stuff balloons. Maybe a band or DJ if you know someone. You get the idea. Make it a fun outing with lots of stuff for everyone. People don’t get out that often. Show them a good time and they’ll come back next year.
Month 2 – Selling
This month focuses on selling registrations using your online fundraising walkathon software, selling sponsorships and acquiring in-kind donations. There are a lot of follow-up calls and emails that need to be made this month. Ideally, this part of your walkathon planning will be headed by the best salespeople on your committee.
Begin Online Registrations
The best way to initiate this is with an email blast to your membership database. This can be done with an email newsletter service. We like Campaign Monitor. The registration form should have all the basics including contact info, emergency contact info and payment information if necessary. We suggest making participation free while requiring some type of fundraising minimum by the participants. It’s better to require a $100 fundraising minimum, for example, than to just get a $25 registration fee. Offer your users an opportunity to download a hard copy registration form and register offline. They can complete the registration form and fax it if they don’t want to do it online.
Follow-up phone calls to those who received invitations
Assuming that you have people’s phone numbers, it may be necessary to follow-up an email blast with a phone call urging people to register. This should be done a week after the first email. You may be able to secure a few more participants with just a little work by volunteers.
Follow-up phone calls to solicited sponsors
Get your best salespeople and call the sponsors that you’ve solicited already. Sell the results, not just the sponsorships. For example, explain the impact that their sponsorship money will have on your cause and also the benefits for the sponsors
Follow-up phone calls to in-kind donors
People are busy. Many want to help but they never get around to it. You’d be surprised at how many people will respond to your phone call by saying that they were going to donate but never got around to it. Follow-up phone calls will get you the items you need, like food and entertainment that will make your event a success. At a minimum, try to get the contact information of the decision maker at potential in-kind donors.
Announce incentive prizes for top raisers
You may want to include incentive prize information in the original email invitation. We’ve worked with an organization that gave away a high-end bike to the top fundraiser in a fundraising bike ride. Even if you only motivate a dozen people to raise more money, this strategy can yield thousands more in revenue for your event.
Month 3 / 4 – Walk details and attendance
Months 3 & 4 of your walkathon planning focus on walk day details and driving up attendance.
An important note on attendance – at this stage, driving up attendance may not be as important as maximizing the effectiveness of the existing registrants. For example, we’ve had clients that had 600 walk participants who raised $165,000. Sounds pretty good, right? We’ve also had other clients that had 50 registered participants who raised $200,000. That’s better. More attendees can be a logistical nightmare and drive up costs.
Before the event
Make final arrangements with the event venue
Pay the balance of the rental fee, make sure you’ve made arrangements for electricity, restrooms, music, LCD projectors, and other materials.
After creating an agenda, debrief the speakers and all organizers of the schedule. Post the agenda on your website or include it in an email blast to participants.
Send two more email blasts
Send one more email to your membership database with a link to the registration and donation pages of the walk website. Then send one email specifically to the registered participants with fundraising advice, incentive information, and the agenda. You should also include information about what to do in case of bad weather.
Issue a press release
Email a press release to the local radio station, newspaper and TV station for your event. Be creative with your release. Don’t submit a release about the event. That’s boring. There are hundreds of fundraising events going on all the time. Try to find a human interest story. For example, maybe one of your participants served in the military and is now back in the U.S. to do some good. Or perhaps a local teacher is walking with her whole class. Pitch something interesting.
E-bay is not a bad place to find screen printing and t-shirts on the cheap. There is no reason to break the bank on this. It’s a good way to keep the walk on people’s consciousness throughout the year.
Make transportation arrangements
Decide how you will be transporting all of the equipment to the walk site. Find out if you can you leave things at the walk site overnight on the day before the walk? Assign someone to drive the van or truck. Assign other volunteers to help with loading and unloading?
Finalize check-in procedures
Assign volunteers at the check-in table. You need to have separate tables for checking in and submitting contributions and pledge sheets. Handling donations should only be done by someone from the development department or qualified staff. Leave this up to someone who can be accountable. If you have extra volunteers, it’s probably a good idea to bring a few laptops and start entering data from the pledges onto a spreadsheet. If you have a wireless connection, then even better. Start entering transactions into your walk software.
An important note on attendance. At this stage, driving up attendance may not be as important as maximizing the effectiveness of the existing registrants. For example, we’ve had clients that had 600 walk participants who raised $165,000. Sounds pretty good, right? We’ve also had other clients that had 50 registered participants who raised $200,000. That’s better. More attendees can be a logistical nightmare and drive up costs.
After the event
Once the event ends, you need to make sure you can finalize all the details and follow-up with your supporters to ensure they know how much your organization appreciates their attendance and donations. When you use an peer to peer fundraising platform, participants have already received payments from their donors. This eliminates having to process all the payments manually.
Review your budget and your actual spending to determine your profit. Once you have this information, post your success to social media with great photos from the event. People who participated will love to go through them again. Continue posting photos and updates so that you keep the momentum flowing.
Send thank you notes to all attendees and volunteers. Send a personalized thank you to your major donors.
And finally, set up a survey to get feedback from your attendees on how you can improve.
Planning a successful walkathon is easy if you have the checklist and are well organized. Contact us to help you get started with creating your walkathon software platform.