Hosting a Charity Walkathon

A lot of fundraisers require you to coordinate sales of a product or service, or to provide entertainment of some sort. A walkathon is one of the easiest fundraisers in this respect, because your main ingredient is simply people willing to walk.

There are even variations where that's not necessary, you can have a celebrity bike ride, boat race, wheelchair stroll, horseback ride, crawl, tiptoe, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

The basic concept of the fundraising walkathon is simple; you solicit for volunteers to donate their time, and presumably their legs, to walk the distance of a given course. The volunteers get sponsors to agree to donate money for completing the course, or for every mile they walk.

It can be done with very little in terms of up-front expense; it requires mostly volunteer time, and the ability to get publicity and sponsors.

Beyond the basics of putting one foot in front of the other though, you can enhance your charity walkathon to raise even more funds for your group. Here are a few ideas:

  1. There will be a crowd of onlookers and supporters to cheer on the volunteers. Many of these individuals will have sponsored one or more of the walkers, but you can also provide them with additional opportunities to donate. Set up a food and drink tent, and sell refreshments to the audience as well as participants.
  2. Publish a Walkathon Book, with information about your group, names of each participant, and other relevant information. You can give the book away for free, but make money from it by getting local companies to sponsor it with advertisements.
  3. You can also get corporate sponsors for the event. There are two ways to do this; with a main sponsor for the entire event (you may even consider naming the Walkathon after the corporate sponsor), and multiple sponsors to host each mile marker on the tour. If you have a ten mile walk, for example, you can have ten sponsors, with each one featured prominently at each marker.

At the Beginning

No, you don't just let people start walking. The beginning of the event should be celebrative, and a media event. Create a tent with tables and a display, complete with banners and signs, and perhaps even live entertainment here. Have a local celebrity or politician give a short talk to honor the walkers.

The entertainment element is important to maintain interest. Once the walkers start walking, attendees may lose interest and walk away, but if you provide some sort of live entertainment, food, or something else to get their attention, you will retain your crowd longer, and have more opportunities for fundraising. The launching area should be in an easily accessible and prominent location.

Logistics

Traffic control is the biggest logistical challenge, and you will need the cooperation of the local traffic control agency or police. Be sure to arrange for that ahead of time, and get any permits that may be required. If traffic will be affected in any way, you are almost sure to be required to have a permit.

If you are planning to block streets, this too will have to be coordinated ahead of time with traffic control officers, and you may have to announce in the local newspaper that certain streets will be inaccessible temporarily.

Also, you should set up smaller "hospitality" stations along the way, especially if it is a long walk. Your walkers will need to stop to take a breather and drink some water along the way, so this must be provided for.

Incentives

Encourage people to volunteer by offering small prizes for completing the course. It doesn't have to be anything costly, a tee-shirt or bill cap with the name of the event printed on it will be cherished.

Alternately, you may solicit local businesses to donate prizes for the walkers, and give them away in a drawing at the end of the course.

Publicity

Publicity is important, not only for getting people to sponsor the walkers and donate money, but also for getting people to walk.

Besides the customary press releases to local media, put up fliers in prominent locations, and activate any phone tree you may have going. Send out email announcements to your mailing list, and make sure to put an announcement in your newsletter.

Lastly, try to get the help of local media. A walkathon that has a few local celebrities participating as walkers will help make your event a little more high-profile.

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