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.
Otis spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.