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Holding a marathon fundraiser is a fun and healthy way to bring community and family together to raise money for a good cause. Considering the estimated number of runners, spectators, volunteers and sponsors you’ll have, as well as road closures, health care and security concerns, it’s wise to start planning your fundraiser six to twelve months prior to your event.

Make sure you pick a date during a week that’s not already busy with other events. Also consider organizing a race shorter than the traditional marathon, like a 5-K or 10-K race, or a half-marathon (13.1.miles) which, according to Runner’s World magazine, is the fastest growing distance within the sport of running.

In conjunction with your marathon you might also plan for a “fun run” for children. Keep it relatively short – one mile or less – and offer trophies for the girl and boy who cross the finish line first – or have the best costume! You might also want to offer small prizes for all of the young runners who participate in the race.

1. First Things First: Your Marathon Planning Committee

The committee’s functions include coming up with a budget, a mission statement and slogan, communicating with the media, grant proposal writing, and determination of your overall goals.

Since planning for a marathon fundraiser will affect local roads, businesses and residents, it makes sense to put together a planning committee that includes members that represent affected residents and local businesses as well as civic leaders and influential people sympathetic to your charity or cause. If you don’t have a lawyer on your committee, consider hiring one to help navigate through upcoming legalities.


marathon fundraiser

2. Pick a Date and Location for Your Marathon Fundraiser

When deciding on a date, not only do you have to consider volunteers’ and sponsors’ availability, but make sure there aren’t any other major local events planned. And don’t forget to check the TV schedule: You don’t want to miss out on potential participants because there is a popular sports event on TV!

Pick your location based on what you’ll get permits for and areas with no or only minor safety concerns. The locale will also dictate the length of the race: is there space for a marathon, a half marathon, a 5-K, 10-K? (Use a GPS device, mobile app or online maps to determine the length of the path you choose.)

It might be a road race, or a trail race or possibly a combination thereof, if the difference in surfaces doesn’t require a change of shoes. Depending on ability of your participants, a half-marathon of 13.1 miles will take between two to three hours to complete. More, if participants walk the whole way.

Another point about locale to keep in mind is the number of people expected from out of town. Is the race location easy to access – easy in and easy out? How about public transportation and parking? Will you offer rides? Are there plenty of nearby hotel rooms available?

When approaching local authorities for permits, liability insurance, police agreements etc., include your written plan which includes a description of the event and the affected area, expectation of the number of runners and possibly a preliminary budget.

3. Budgeting Tips

You can get an estimate for your expenses from previous fundraisers, or by researching other marathon fundraisers. Larger fundraisers like this one are usually financed with a mix of cash and in-kind donations, cash at hand and possibly a loan.

Besides sticking to essentials and trimming unnecessary fat from your expenses, asking businesses for cash donations, or donations of needed items will further reduce cash outlay for your group. (More on in-kind donations.)

In exchange, you can offer sponsorship benefits like ads on your blog, mentions on your social media accounts or signs at the refreshment stands etc. Offer sponsorships to previous sponsors first before approaching new potential sponsors. (Asking for donations.)

The following items lend themselves perfectly for sponsorship and/or adding sponsorship messages:

• Advertising
• T-shirts for participants and spectators, kids and baby shirts, hats
• Runner’ race bibs (number tags)
• Finish line
• Trophies, ribbons, prizes, etc.
• Water bottles, plastic cups, etc.
• Decorations, balloons
• Refreshments
• Entertainment
• Rental fees for equipment
• Tickets printing
• Drink and aid stations
• Trash cans/removal
• Portable toilets

Other expenses: permits and fees, timing equipment, liability insurance, first aid staff, security and safety, power generators, lighting, canopies, music and entertainment.

Approach different branches of businesses for sponsorship and other charitable groups for partnership. Examples would be grocery stores, hotels and businesses catering to tourism, hardware and rental stores, athletic stores, printing businesses, local police or medical groups, non-profits with a different supporter demographic.

Partnerships with other charitable groups may not reduce your expenses, but may be helpful in increasing the number of participants in your marathon fundraiser. (I.e. “green” or recycling organization, children’s charity, food bank.)

4. Safety and Health Care

Depending on the size of your event, you might have to ask for help from your local law enforcement. Each city will have different rules when it comes to safety and security, that’s why it’s beneficial to have someone with a connection to City Hall on your committee to help with these details.

Plan on having volunteers along the race path to hand out water to participants. Set up tents with staff to help with minor ailments and first aid. Have an ambulance ready to go. It may seem that if you’re only planning a small event these things might not be necessary, but regardless of the size of the event, you have to be prepared to deal with health issues. (You might find volunteer help at your local community college.).

5. Choose a Name for Your Event

Choose a name that’s easy to remember (possibly with an element of fun) and actually says what it’s about. An artsy or abstract name may sound exciting, but will be counter productive when it comes to marketing the event.

List a few possible choices and try them out on others: do they know right away what it is about? Does the name imply something else unintentionally? How does it abbreviate? Does the name already come up in an online search? Does it sound too similar to another event?

6. How to Make Money

The possibilities are endless! Make sure you keep a tight handle on your budget so you’re not leaking money on one end while you’re trying to bring in funds on the other. Some ideas for your marathon fundraiser:

– Runner participation fees (offer different levels)
– T-shirts for participants and non-participants (family members, spectators)
– Sponsored runner donations; runners may be sponsored by friends, family, businesses and donations are announced after the race. Post all donations and offer special recognition to highest ones.
– Offer a discount to runners who sign up before a particular cut-off date. This may help to increase the number of participants
– Souvenirs like water bottles, buttons, stickers
– Refreshments
– Advertising and mentions for flyers, posters, newsletters, website, social media
– Add-on fundraisers like selling refreshments, food, bake sale, cell phone recycling, face painting

>> Click here for 100+ fundraising ideas!

If you anticipate a lot of first time runners, consider offering a “Marathon for Beginners” class a few months before the event. Besides preparing people for your marathon, these gatherings are a lot of fun, create buzz and add some extra income to your fundraiser! (Click over to Runner’s World’s tips for beginners.)

7. Volunteers

You’ll need volunteers to help with all parts of administering and running the marathon: registering participants, collecting entrance fees, handing out t-shirts, selling refreshments, keeping social media accounts and websites up-to-date and cleaning up at the end of the event.

You’ll also need race monitors along the path who hand out water and who deal with any unforeseen safety hazards and someone to run a timing system. Unless your marathon is a very small event, plan on renting timing equipment where each runner receives a chip to attach to the shoelace or race bib which will automatically record their time as they cross the finish line.

Plan for plenty of volunteers and back-up volunteers and create and post a central plan for everyone involved that shows jobs, times, break times etc. and hand out a final copy on race day.

>> More about hiring and keeping volunteers.

8. Managing your Marathon

You’ll have to keep track of participants, sponsors, funds, marketing products, social media accounts, your blog, volunteers etc. How do you keep it all organized? First of all, you need to delegate different jobs, but you can also take advantage of technology to automate some of these jobs.

Search the web for “marathon registration software” or “race registration software” and you’ll find online services that will take care of the participant registration process for a fee. You can also search for “race management” to find companies who offer other kinds of services that may help your race. Of course you’ll have to weigh the price against how much value you’ll derive from these services.

(See our list of 15 most popular online fundraising services and also check sites like Eventbrite.com for help with promoting your event and registering participants.)

If you’re planning your first marathon, the amount of work and time commitment involved and the learning curve might be a good reason to start with a smaller event. You can always make next year’s event bigger!

>> To stay organized use our checklists.

9. Marketing your Fundraiser

There are many ways to publicize your marathon. Use creativity in your campaign to spread the word in advance.

• The “old fashioned” newspaper and other print advertisements
• Flyers
• Town banners
• Use your social media accounts, blog or website and other current marketing channels
• Contact related blogs to let them know about your event
• Search online for “promote event” to find services that will help with marketing, registration and other event related jobs
• Local TV and radio announcements
• Word of mouth: train your volunteers on how to talk about your event and what and who to mention (or not to mention)

(More about marketing your fundraiser.)

Even though this type of fundraiser can be a lot of work, it brings communities together in a common act of generosity that’s memorable and pays off in so many ways. As always after a fundraising event, don’t forget to thank everyone involved, including participants, vendors, volunteers and sponsors.

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