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Walking is something that most of us can do with ease, and it is a relaxing and healthy way to pass the time. This is what makes walk-a-thons popular for school organizations and nonprofits looking for a challenging and engaging way of raising money. Organizing a stellar walk-a-thon can be challenging, so here are five tips:

  1. Choose a fun theme.
  2. Sell branded merchandise.
  3. Focus on accessibility.
  4. Plan your marketing strategy.
  5. Decide on a route.

When planning for your walk-a-thon for your nonprofit or school organization, make sure that you pick an appropriate online fundraising platform. Since the success of your walk-a-thon will hinge on your participants’ family and friends pledging donations, ensure that the platform you select allows for the creation of pledge pages and makes the donation process simple. Having easy-to-use social media integrations is a bonus, as they will allow your walk-a-thon participants to quickly and conveniently share their pledge pages with their personal networks.

Ready to learn more about preparing your next walk-a-thon? Let’s dive in with our first tip. 

1. Choose a fun theme.

Having a theme is not necessary for a walk-a-thon, but it will elevate your event by bringing a sense of cohesiveness to the experience. Plus, having a theme can make the entire process of planning and hosting a walk-a-thon more fun! Explore 99Pledges’ list of fundraising ideas for theme ideas that your audience might be interested in. 

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Holiday. If you’re hosting your walk-a-thon close to a holiday, consider making it holiday-themed. For example, if Christmas is just around the corner, you can host a jingle bell walk, where participants wear little bells that jingle when they walk.
  • Color walk. Perfect for younger participants, a color walk is very similar to a color run. Have participants wear white shirts. Every time they walk a certain distance, such as half a mile, volunteers throw colored powder at them. At the end of the walk, their shirts will be all sorts of different colors—perfect for memorable photo-ops!
  • Costume. Give participants the chance to dress up by making your walk-a-thon costume-themed! Although particularly appropriate for Halloween, don’t be afraid to have this theme at other times. You can get even more specific with the costume type—try asking participants to dress as superheroes or to come in their best renaissance festival outfits.
  • Cause month. If your nonprofit’s cause is tied to a month, consider hosting your walk-a-thon during that month and theme it after your cause. For example, if you were hosting a Pinktober walk-a-thon for breast cancer awareness, you could make your marketing materials pink, and have volunteers and participants wear pink during the event.
  • Dog/pet. A walk-a-thon is a great opportunity for pets to get some exercise. Encourage participants to walk their dogs and other pets during the event. You can also set out pet water bowls so that they can quench their thirst whenever they need to!

Having a theme will allow your supporters and participants to more deeply engage with your event. It may also help to attract spectators, allowing your nonprofit to reach out to a larger audience.

2. Sell branded merchandise.

Consider alternate ways of generating funds during your walk-a-thon, such as selling branded merchandise. A merchandise sale is a popular strategy for walk-a-thons and fun runs because the items can be useful to event participants and can even help your organization promote its cause. 

To ensure that you get a healthy return on your investment of purchasing and customizing branded merchandise, sell items that your walk-a-thon participants will be interested in, such as:

  • Water bottles
  • Hats
  • Towels
  • Shirts
  • Electric hand fans

Also, consider having food stands along the route so participants and spectators can purchase something to eat. Better yet, convert your concessions into a food-based fundraiser and have staff walk around selling snacks such as popcorn, pretzels, and chocolate bars.

3. Focus on accessibility.

For many walk-a-thons, people are sponsored per mile walked. However, this can alienate people with disabilities or those whose fitness level doesn’t allow them to walk for long distances. Instead, you can allow donors to sponsor walkers for set amounts of money instead of distances. This will make your walk-a-thon more appealing to people of all age ranges and abilities.

You can also add side events to your walk-a-thon, such as egg and spoon racing, so people have multiple ways of participating if they don’t want to (or aren’t able to) walk for long distances. Ensure that you have enough chairs for spectators and participants who want a break, and have volunteers give out free water. You can also include giving kiosks at these side events, so participants can donate even if they aren’t walking.  

Adding these things to your walk-a-thon will go a long way for accessibility. Make sure you thank your volunteers for setting up and helping your event be more accessible!

4. Plan your marketing strategy.

Carefully plan out the different ways you will promote your walk-a-thon to maximize the number of participants you recruit. The best way to do so is to leverage a multichannel marketing strategy in which you tap into both print and digital marketing methods to spread the news about your event far and wide. 

Here are a few different channels you can use to publicize your event:

  • Email. Include information about your walk-a-thon in your newsletters, and send out an email with event details for participants who have already signed up.
  • Phone. Call donors, supporters, and volunteers and let them know that you have an event coming up. Be prepared to leave a voicemail in case the supporter is busy and can’t get to the phone.
  • Website. Promote your event on your homepage and make sure to link to your event page so that viewers can easily navigate to the event and learn more about it. Ensure that your website is easy to use, accessible, and mobile-friendly for a better user experience.
  • Flyers. Put up flyers around where you plan to hold your event and in other places with lots of foot traffic. Make sure your flyers have eye-catching graphics that are branded to your nonprofit, and include QR codes linking to your website so that people can easily find more information.
  • Contact local press and media. If you’re anticipating that your walk-a-thon will be a large event, contact local press and media outlets. They may be open to featuring your event, allowing you to reach an even wider audience.

Promoting your event is crucial to having a large number of participants. Not only will it increase turnout for your walk-a-thon, but it will also increase awareness of your nonprofit in general. This will help you attract more supporters, who may eventually become volunteers and donors.

5. Decide on a route.

While some walk-a-thons have participants walk on their own time and wherever they want, having a planned route for all your participants to walk during a specific event time is another great option. When you’ve decided on a route, work with your local government to approve it—you may need permits, or the route may not be feasible because of upcoming construction work.

When picking a route for your walk-a-thon, consider multiple routes. Make sure to walk them yourself and take note of their features. You’ll want lots of sidewalks so participants don’t have to walk on the side of the road, and if your participants must cross the road, pick an intersection with a properly marked pedestrian crossing path, so they can walk safely. Additionally, if you live in a particularly hot climate, consider a route with lots of trees or shade.

You can set up a little thank-you tent at the very end of the route, where staff can hand out medals or small trophies and thank participants and donors. Kwala suggests giving them handwritten notes or letters that they can treasure later, maybe even from the beneficiaries of the fundraiser or your nonprofit’s board members.

Remember that part of hosting a stellar walk-a-thon is using an appropriate, robust fundraising platform. Whether you are looking for a fundraising platform for schools or one that will help you raise money for your nonprofit, make sure your platform specializes in peer-to-peer fundraising. Ensure that event participants can make and share eye-catching pledge pages and donors can easily submit their pledges, and you’ll be on your way to a successful walk-a-thon!

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