If you’ve been in the fundraising world for a while, you’ve probably heard of a-thon fundraising events. These walk-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and other a-thon events challenge participants to complete a certain activity for as long as possible. The longer they complete the activity, the more donations they raise for your cause.
Events like a walk-a-thon or run-a-thon are tried-and-true fundraisers, but there are plenty of benefits to adding a unique twist to your a-thon fundraiser. You can engage your supporters with a fresh, exciting event idea that allows them to get active and meet other members of their community.
Whether you’re fundraising to support your community nonprofit, booster club, or youth sports team, consider these six strategies to add a creative twist to your a-thon fundraiser:
- Choose a creative event type.
- Pick an engaging theme.
- Make it a skills competition.
- Exercise participants’ brain power.
- Create branded event merchandise.
- Consider planning a virtual event.
As you plan your a-thon fundraiser, make sure you have access to an online fundraising platform. This tool will allow you to set up your fundraiser and give participants access to their own fundraising pages to collect pledges from family members and friends. Review 99Pledges’ guide to effective fundraising platforms to review critical platform features and find the right solution for your organization.
Your online fundraising platform will allow you to organize a successful fundraiser, no matter which creative twist you choose to add to your event. With that in mind, let’s get started!
1. Choose a creative event type.
The type of a-thon event you choose will set the stage for your creative approach. A walk-a-thon is the classic a-thon style event, where participants walk or complete as many laps as possible to raise money for a cause. This fundraising event can be highly effective for your organization, especially if you choose a fun theme, like the ones we’ll review in the next section.
But there are plenty of other activities you can invite participants to complete if you want to switch up the physical challenge aspect of your event. These include a:
Choose an event idea that will appeal to your supporters and community the most. For example, if your city has a strong biking community, a bike-a-thon might be well-received by potential donors and participants alike. Or, if you’re planning a school fundraiser, a kid-friendly event like a dance- or hula-hoop-a-thon will be more engaging for your young participants.
2. Pick an engaging theme.
If you decide to host a more traditional a-thon style event like a walk- or run-a-thon, you can make it more exciting by giving it a fun theme. One of the best things about a-thon fundraisers is that the theme ideas are practically endless. Here are just a few ideas to help you start brainstorming:
- Holiday event: Embrace the holiday spirit and plan a Jingle Jog around the winter holidays, a Turkey Trot for Thanksgiving, or a Zombie Run for Halloween.
- Color, bubble, or foam run: Color runs, bubble runs, and foam runs are becoming very popular since they allow participants to embrace their inner child. These runs include colorful foam, bubbles, or powder that racers run through while completing their steps or miles.
- Costume contest: Adding a costume contest to your a-thon fundraiser is a great idea not just around Halloween, but any time of the year. You can give your event a decades theme, like the 70s or 80s, and encourage participants to wear era-appropriate clothing. Other themes, such as Disney characters or celebrity doppelgangers, can make for fun costume contest ideas, too.
These theme ideas can spark participants’ creativity and boost awareness of your event, too. Participants will be excited to think of their costume idea and invite their friends so they can come up with group costumes. Plus, when they take photos at the event and share them on social media, they help increase your organization’s overall brand awareness.
3. Make it a skills competition.
A-thon fundraisers don’t just have to be endurance-based physical events. With a skills-based fundraising event, you can invite supporters to show off their specialized talents and raise money for your cause.
Consider these skills-based a-thon fundraising ideas:
- Baseball hit-a-thon
- Basketball shoot-a-thon
Using the pledge model once again, participants can collect pledges corresponding to the number of baseballs they hit, knitted items they create, baskets they make, or pins they knock over in a certain specified time period.
4. Exercise participants’ brain power.
Not all participants will be interested in or able to participate in a physical fitness fundraiser. Luckily, there are plenty of fun and effective event-a-thon fundraisers that draw on brain power instead!
These challenges can also be effective for the colder winter months since they can be completed indoors. Check out a few of our favorite brain-bending fundraisers:
- Read-a-thon: In this challenge, participants will read as many books or pages as possible in a given time frame. This challenge can last longer, such as a month, to give participants time to read more books.
- Spell-a-thon: Like a spelling bee, a spell-a-thon challenges participants to spell correctly. Students can study a list of words and try to spell as many correctly as possible on event day.
- Chess-a-thon: Invite the chess players in your community to participate in a chess-a-thon where they play as many chess games as possible.
These fundraisers are particularly well-suited to schools and youth groups, as you can encourage student educational development while fundraising for your school or cause.
5. Create branded event merchandise.
Branded merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and hats can be an excellent way to commemorate your a-thon fundraising event while also earning extra funding for your organization.
Using a merchandise platform like Bonfire, you can easily create and sell customized merch for your a-thon event. Here’s how the process works:
- Create your merchandise design or ask community members to submit designs they’ve created. Then, send out a poll for supporters to vote on their favorite.
- Upload your design to your merchandise fundraising platform and create a campaign page. Use the page to describe why you’re fundraising and your event’s goal.
- Promote your merchandise page using social media posts, emails, and links on your website.
That’s it! To spread the word about your event merchandise, encourage supporters to take photos wearing or using their merchandise and post them on social media. Also, if you’re selling t-shirts, encourage participants to wear your shirt on the event day as a fun way to bring everyone together.
6. Consider planning a virtual event.
Give your a-thon fundraiser a modern twist by hosting it in the virtual space! A virtual event can appeal to your supporters who can’t attend your in-person opportunities. Plus, it gives supporters the flexibility to complete your a-thon challenge on their own time and from the comfort of home.
Some ideas that work well for virtual a-thon events include dance-a-thons, walk-a-thons, read-a-thons, and bike-a-thons. Participants can track their activity using an app, such as a mile-tracking app like Strava or a book-tracking app like Goodreads.
Because planning a virtual event is slightly different than for in-person experiences, it’s important to follow virtual event best practices such as:
- Develop an online-focused marketing plan that uses platforms like social media and email.
- Create a list of fundraising guidelines to help participants reach their individual fundraising goals. For example, create a recommended social media posting schedule, with captions supporters can use in their posts. This helps keep supporters on track to reach their goals, supporting your overall fundraising objectives.
- Foster engagement by encouraging participants to take videos completing the activities at home.
- Track fundraising progress using digital tools like a fundraising thermometer. This allows you to keep participants updated when you aren’t all meeting at the same place.
Share and comment on your supporters’ social media posts and photos to thank them for their support and help them complete their goals. Send a round-up email at the end of the fundraiser thanking all supporters and sharing your fundraising total.
Adding a creative, unexpected twist to your a-thon fundraiser can help you exceed your fundraising goals and keep your supporters engaged. Whether you’re simply adjusting the physical challenge or planning a full-on costume contest, your participants are sure to appreciate the extra effort!