5 Reasons Why Adding a 5K to Your Walk Is a Terrible Idea
In peer-to-peer fundraising, the temptation to repurpose walk infrastructure is almost overwhelming. “We already have paid to block the course." "We have sponsors we can charge more if we add a 5K." "We have lots of people who say they want to run a 5K." What’s not to love?
A lot. Walk participants show up because they are attached to the mission; they are intrinsically motivated to support your organization. They participate because they believe “it is the right thing to do;” there is no other reason for them to be at the event. You can walk almost anywhere, almost anytime. In fact, later that day your participants could walk at your walk site. They don’t need you to walk; they need you to help impact a mission goal.
Participants in a 5K show up because they want to run a 5K. While a rare few may have a mission connection that they are acting on, the vast majority are motivated extrinsically. They simply want a 5K experience—any 5K experience. These participants, for the most part, have little or no mission attachment.
Why does the difference in motivation make adding a 5K to your walk a bad idea?
- 5K registrants don’t raise much money. In fact, they rarely even try. Looking at the amount of outreach they attempt, according to Blackbaud Peer-to-Peer Benchmark Study, it’s clear that the only bar most of them are clearing is the one to register. And that makes perfect sense. They are, by and large, out for a running experience.
- After adding lots of non-fundraising participants, you add risk (liability, for example) and cost. You also add consumers who expect more customer service than you may be prepared to serve up. Walkers forgive. Consumers don’t.
- Analyzing the data gets harder. Grouping walker and 5K participant data hides the vast differences in behavior of the two types of participants, leading you to make business decisions on faulty data. For example, 5K participants return at higher rates than walk participants. High retention is typically good, but our 5Kers are returning because they need to find a 5K experience to buy in year two. A returning 5Ker is little better than a new 5Ker, in terms of your potential fundraising. A returning walker, on the other hand, is a lot better than a new walker for your fundraising metrics.
- The better you make the 5K experience, the worse the impact of the 5K is on your walk. For example, if you offer timing to attract more runners you will get more participants—who are not going to fundraise but whom you must accommodate.
- The increased number of registrants looks like more income, to you and to your boss. Expectations are set. Oh, no.
5Ks are not inherently a bad thing, I tell my Turnkey clients, but revenue goals for a 5K can’t be built on the walk model. 5Ks are a market offering and put your participants in a market relationship with your organization. You are offering an experience for a price. You are making margin on your costs. You are not peer-to-peer fundraising to any great degree. Recognizing that fact lets you build a revenue model that you won’t be defending while you fight for your job.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.