How to Plan a Charity Walk or Run
Charity events in any form are always popular, but increasingly, many organisations are choosing to recruit their fundraisers through more interactive events such as walks and runs. A charity walk or run is not only a healthy way for your participants to raise money for a good cause, but also a very visible way of publicising your charitable cause to the community.
If a charity run or walk seems like a good fit for your organisation, here is an overview of some things you may want to keep in mind when planning the event.
The Planning Phase
Choosing a Route
When planning a mass participation event such as a walk or run it is important that you first take some time to carefully consider the route your participants will be following. Your choice of route will play a central roll in other decisions you make concerning resources, staff size, security, transportation, volunteers, signage, and ultimately the satisfaction of your participants.
When mapping out the course, first determine the type of event you would like to hold. Most fundraising events try to be as inclusive as possible because, simply put, more fundraisers translates into more donations for your cause! If your goal is to be as inclusive as possible that means you want people of all ages and physical abilities to be able to participate in your event. That said, when choosing your route it is a good idea to not only look at a map but get out there and actually walk the course yourself. When surveying the road, pay attention to elevation gain, traffic, road conditions, and any other factors that could potentially make participating in your event strenuous for the less physically able. You may also benefit from contacting a local running or walking club for suggestions of routes that may fit your participant’s ability levels. Some common route distances for charity events are 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon.
Participant safety is something to strongly consider when mapping out your route. How much traffic travels along your route? Are there adequate pedestrian lanes that will keep your participants a safe distance from the traffic? Does your route require that your participants cross any especially busy streets? Is any stretch of your route undergoing construction? Will the course be open to the public making it easy for non-registered people to come in contact with your participants? Asking yourself these questions will help you chart your course around any potential hazards and allow your participants to have a fun, care-free experience on event day.
When choosing the location of your route, also keep participant and spectator access to transportation in mind. If you want crowds of spectators to turn out and easy access to the event for your participants, make sure that the course is in close proximity to public transportation and parking for those who have automobiles. If your event is not in a metropolitan area, it may be a good idea to hire busses and choose some meet up locations where people can catch a ride to the event site.
Resources and Staff
The number of participants and spectators you expect on event day as well as length of course are the two main factors that will determine the size of your volunteer staff and resources needed. Here is a list of items commonly used by event walking and running events:
- Two way radios
- Rope, tape and cones for course marking
- Signage for start and finish areas
- Signage for services and support areas
- Portable toilets
- Trash cans
- Stage for awards ceremony
- PA system
Legalities of a Charity Walk or Run
Speaking of special permits, there are several legalities to consider when planning a charity walk or run. Now that you have chosen your route, have you looked to see if you need permission to use this planned route? You may need to speak with the local council or the person who owns the land. Have you checked to make sure there are no other events planned on your route come event day? Have you obtained liability insurance for your event? Ideally, your insurance should cover any medical problems that occur during the event as well as damage to the land and surrounding property. With the size of event you are expecting, are you required to schedule police presence or request road closures? Do you have permission from the organisation you are raising money for to use their logo and name?
Considering every city, town, or district have their own set of regulations, how you address them will depend on local law and requirements. What we highlighted above are only some of the larger items you should investigate. We would suggest contacting your local council for more information.
Now that you picked an event location and have all of the necessary approvals and permits, its time to start spreading the word! Traditional event marketing consists of mail, tv, radio, newspaper advertisements and signs posted up about town. These methods can be effective, reach large audiences, and should be looked into but they can come at a high cost. Don’t let that get you down though – the internet has spawned many highly targeted, low-cost, and sometimes free marketing channels that are ideal for creating a buzz about your charity event. Here is a list of some web marketing options that you may want to consider:
Build a website – This is a must. Nowadays, any successful event has an official website where they can direct the public, media and interested sponsors for more information.
Facebook, Twitter, Social Media – There are countless online communities and fan pages out there that are filled with people passionate about the same cause you are raising money for. Get involved with these people and immerse yourself in the online conversation. Build a Facebook Fan Page or Twitter page for your event, envite your new online friends and encourage them to recruit their friends to get involved for the cause.
Paid Search Advertising – Google and other search engines allow you to bid on keyword phrases and place an ad at the top of their search results. Try bidding on keywords such as “London charity events” or “London fundraising run”. Create compelling ad copy and entice the user to click through to your official event website for more information.
Submit Your Event to an Online Events Calendar – There are many websites that will give you a free event listing on their online calendar. Submit your event profile to as many of these as possible and make sure to include a link back to your website in the description.
Email Advertising – Does your organisation already have a list of members who subscribe to your monthly newsletter or email announcements? Send your contact list an attractive HTML email with information about your event and a link to your. Make sure to include “share” buttons in your emails to make it easy for the recipient to pass it on to a friend. Also, on your website, Facebook page and Twitter page, include a feature where the visitor can join your mailing list.
Something important to consider from the start of the planning phase is how you will collect contact information, entry fees, and fundraising commitments from people who want to participate. Until recently, most events collected participant data and entry fees in person in the event office with a paper registration form. To streamline the staff workload that comes along with paper-based registration, you may want to find a technology provider that specialises in event management software and online event registration. An integrated online event management system will allow you to build a custom online registration form, link to that form from your website, and collect your participant contact data online. We would suggest that the technology you choose include a merchant gateway integrated with the registration form so that you can seamlessly and securely collect payment online during the registration process. Depending on your technology provider, the data collected on an online registration form should be captured and stored in a database that you can log into, manage the data, run reports, email participants and process cancellation refunds if needed.
Examples of questions that could be included on a charity walk registration form are:
- Emergency Contact
- Shirt size (if you are offering a free shirt with the entry fee)
- How did you hear of this event?
- Number of times you have participated in this event
- Team Name (if you are offering team fundraising)
- What is your fundraising goal?
- What distance will you walk?
- Will you be attending the pre-event celebration dinner?
If you hope to grow the size of your email database, it is very important that you make the Email question compulsory so that every online registration has an email address associated with it in your database. You will be able to use this email to send out reminder emails about changes to the event schedule or important notices about fundraising. Any fully integrated online event management system will also need the email address to send out an automatic confirmation email letting the registrant know that their payment has been accepted and spot saved for event admission.
Some more advanced event management systems include an online fundraising platform that you can integrate with your online registration form. What’s great about this is that every person who registers online will automatically have an online fundraising website created for them. The fundraiser can customise their website, ad images, set a fundraising goal, blog about their progress and training for the event, and communicate with their donors. The donor can visit the fundraising site and make an online donation with their credit card at which point the donation amount is added to the fundraisers goal total and money is sent to the charitable organisation. Many organisations are moving their fundraising efforts completely online because the general consensus is that people are likely to donate more if they are able to do it online from the comfort of their own home.
Communication up until event day
The key to a successful event is to steadily build the registrant’s excitement and anticipation from the day they register all the way up until they arrive on event day. Participants that register months prior to the event may loose interest or slow down their fundraising efforts if they are not engaged and encouraged on a regular basis. This is where collecting your registrations online will be very useful. Since you have a database of registrants including their email address, you will be able to send out reminder emails and keep the communication going up until the event. Some content ideas for a weekly newsletter could be:
Updates and special announcements of developments to the event schedule or added entertainment
News and articles from the organisation your event will be raising money for
A training plan for those getting in shape for the event
Special contests for the post-event awards ceremony
Free prizes and incentives for those participants that recruit friends to join the cause
You should also send one final email to your registrants 2-3 days before the event including:
- Event start time
- Instructions on how and where to check in upon arrival
- Schedule of events
- Reminder to bring extra money if they want to buy merchandise or food at the celebration party
- Summary of prizes that will be awarded to the top fundraisers
- The cost of late registration if anyone wants to bring a friend to the event
- Weather forecast so that people dress appropriately
- List of hotels in the area for anyone who plans to stay the night
After the Event
You and your staff may be exhausted after the long build-up to a successful event but believe it or not, you should already be thinking about next year’s event! Considering everyone had a great time, send out a follow-up email and offer your registrants a discounted rate for next year’s event if they register for it now. Or offer them a “returning participant” coupon that they can use when you activate next year’s online registration form. Another smart thing to do is send an online survey out to your participants and ask them what they liked and what can be improved upon for next year’s event. You can offer your participants a free gift or registration discount if they complete the form for you. This participant feedback is extremely valuable and will help you get a sense of the participant experience on the ground that many event organisers are so often shielded from on event day with so many administrative tasks to juggle.