On the Run: Get a Head Start in the Race for Better Run/Walk/Ride Events
This past November, thousands of people convened in Houston—and they were all wearing boots. Styles weren’t limited to cowboy boots or rain boots. They included every conceivable kind, from leopard-print ankle booties to well-worn hiking boots. The motive behind this unusual gathering? The common goal of raising money for MD Anderson Cancer Center—or, “giving cancer the boot.”
This is just one example of the many unique run/walk/ride events that nonprofits have unveiled in recent years. Statistics may suggest that this type of peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising is on its way out. Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum reported that from 2013 to 2014, revenue for the top 30 events dropped by 2.47 percent and by another 2.55 percent from 2014 to 2015. If the most popular events have less success with each passing year, then the future of run/walk/ride events must not be very bright, right?
Experts say not to fret. Run/walk/ride events aren’t going away. They’re just evolving. And there are more of them, with newer events—built on refined P2P concepts and years of research and data—popping up often. Two events for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund illustrate this phenomenon. The organization hosts both a walk event and a ride event. One is the Time to Fly walk, an annual run/walk in Minneapolis founded 14 years ago. The other event is the Great Cycle Challenge, a virtual, month-long biking event that took place for the second time this past June.
One might assume that the well-established, traditional run/walk, recurring for more than a decade, would result in higher fundraising totals. But Time to Fly raises between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, while the Great Cycle Challenge netted $1.7 million in its first year. What makes one event generate consistent, but modest, revenue, while the other skyrockets from zero to $1.7 million in just a year?
One factor is that the Great Cycle Challenge is one-of-a-kind. It’s also done virtually, allowing participants to set their own goals for a physical challenge and expanding the pool of potential supporters able to participate. The event is unique and accessible, but still challenges participants and donors by motivating and engaging them.
Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll raise millions at your next event, especially if it’s your first one. But there are ways to ensure that your next run, walk or ride is a successful one. Here are some tips and techniques to get your supporters moving.
Know the Motive
Why is it that runs, walks and rides for nonprofits have people reaching for their wallets (and even waking up early on Saturdays)? Endurance events can mean effort, discomfort and even pain—all of it done willingly. It seems counterintuitive, but that’s because human motivation is complex. Understanding what makes these events effective will help you maximize the impact your event has on potential donors.
One aspect of motivation to attend events such as these is the “martyrdom effect.” A study by Eldar Shafir and Christopher Y. Olivola revealed that people are more likely to associate meaning and value with a task that has involved effort and even pain. Likewise, the study results showed that people will donate significantly more to a “painful/effortful” event, like a 5K run, than they will to an “easy/enjoyable” event, like a charity picnic. However, if given the choice between an effortful event and an enjoyable event, most people will choose the easy, enjoyable option, resulting in a lesser donation.
The study also found that effortful events are far more likely to generate willingness to attend and donate if the event’s cause relates to human suffering. In other words, people will participate in a 100-mile bike ride for a children’s cancer center, but not a 100-mile bike ride to support a public arts program. An event is likely to garner more support if participants feel that their efforts can relieve human suffering in some way.
What makes your event special? What does it have to make it stand out from the rest? Why should supporters give their time and money to be there? “People don’t want to do a 5K,” Tim Brockman, founder and CEO of Event 360, told Outside Online. “They want to go to a neon disco blacklight 5K at night, and the Vampire Run and an Undie 500.”
Basic runs, walks and rides may not be a big enough draw, especially if the event is new. But Sharon Kessler, director of development for Hope for Henry Foundation, said there’s no need to ditch the traditional style of event. “Have a theme, add another component besides the run/walk,” she said.
Jean-Marie Bonofilio, manager of fundraising events for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, recommended another way to make an event memorable. “Bringing elements of the work that your organization does to the event really makes it your own,” she said. “[For] example, AIDS Action Committee has a sponsor on site that distributes condoms, which directly aligns with our mission.”
She also added that pre- and post-walk celebrations are great opportunities to get participants excited about the event and generate enthusiasm for the cause.
Keep Up With Technology
The progression of the internet has made modern P2P fundraising drastically different from early fundraising events and even events from 10 years ago. Crowdfunding and P2P sites make it easy and fast for donors to support a cause. Kessler said one of the most common mistakes in organizing these events is a hard-to-use website. Potential supporters attempting to sign up and donate will feel that their time is being wasted if they discover the process to do so is confusing or frustrating.
She also recommended creating an email template for participants to personalize before sending out to friends, family and co-workers. Bonofilio added, “[Streamlining] registration, giving and fundraising and making the process as easy as possible online is very important.”
Invest Where it Matters
“[A common mistake is] investing too much money in aspects of the event that don’t guarantee a return on your investment,” said Bonofilio. Experts agree that easy online sign-up and a straightforward P2P fundraising website are absolutely vital. However, this is just one of the essential expenses to take into consideration. Permits, equipment and even small details like water coolers and cups will be on your shopping list.
Marketing and promotion is another aspect worth investing in. “Make sure that your organization is being accurately represented in all communications through clear, consistent messaging,” Bonofilio explained. “Walks are in a tough position, as there is so much competition, not only with other walks, but with other sporting events too.” Make your event stand out with top-notch marketing and a powerful message.
Foster a Community
“Building a community of participants that want to engage their family, friends and co-workers is essential to the success of run/walk/ride events,” said Bonofilio. “Peer-to-peer fundraising is most successful when you have an active, engaged group of participants that believe in the mission of your organization.”
And it’s not enough to simply generate that engaged group; you also need to maintain it. “We work hard to make sure our walkers, runners and volunteers feel valued, thanked and supported throughout the process year to year,” Bonofilio noted. Show your appreciation by staying in contact with donors. Letting them know that they’re important will keep them interested in your organization and increase the odds they’ll be repeat participants in your events.
Fundraising isn’t the only measure of a successful run, walk or ride. “[These events] are not just fundraisers, but awareness events,” said Kessler. By raising awareness about your cause and your organization, you’re building a community and making a name for your nonprofit.
P2P events require time, effort and dedication from both you and your participants. They’re not for the faint of heart. But, as Bonofilio said, “Seeing thousands of people at your run/walk/ride event, after months of hard work, is truly rewarding.”