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How to start planning a walkathon

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Walkathons are great crowdfunding events because of their global reach and ease of participation. Almost everyone can participate at all fitness levels and ages – and many organizations add the option to ‘roll’ in wheelchairs. School fundraising groups, PTOs and small nonprofit organizations have turned to walkathons because of their inclusive nature.

Planning a walkathon is a project – and you should consider yourself the project manager. You’ll need teams of volunteers to help you in accomplishing your goal of a successful walkathon to raise money for your cause. Remember that the tasks involved in planning and executing a walkathon fundraiser are not all yours. Whether the event is small or large, new or established, there are many details and jobs to be done.

Forming walkathon project teams

Each walkathon fundraiser is unique, as is each team of volunteers, board members and staff. Working with groups of people of different backgrounds from various organizations, each with varying skill sets and communication styles, takes a good leader whose time is spent seeing the overall picture, its moving parts and team members.

Start with a brainstorming meeting by inviting your organization’s stake holders such as volunteers from past events, board members, recurring donors, and staff members. Find out what team leaders you may have already by discussing your needs and gauging interest. Gather ideas for reaching out to new volunteers, donors and community members. Assign someone to the role of volunteer outreach leader.

Ideally, the first steps of planning a walkathon begin as much as a year ahead of your event, depending on the size and scope of your walkathon. Gathering key players and forming teams is a big task. Much planning should be done on this level before the subsequent logistical details may be tackled. Start by choosing a date, time, distance and location of your fundraising event.

Specific tasks may be scheduled after forming project teams. Consider creating a common place to document lists, fundraising ideas and team leaders on a shared Google drive.

Walkathon management teams

Mighty Logistics Team

Your team of logistics lovers are responsible for finding creative ways to manage the flow of traffic during the walkathon. They’ll also create areas for the crowd of onlookers to watch the walkers – the cheering section. Buying traffic cones, signs and ensuring they are clearly visible to participants (think matching t-shirts) are a part of their vital team function.

This group is an essential part of the walkathon planning process and also be responsible to keep the day safe. They’ll coordinate with the local police department on traffic and police assistance, work with local government regarding liability issues, oversee procurement of insurance coverage and obtain necessary permits. Parking, maintenance, garbage, set-up and take-down are added to their long list of duties. Initial leaders will likely want to recruit more volunteers to help them on the day of the event.

They’ll also need to decide what equipment is needed to communicate with each other. It may be possible for them to use their smartphones (consider a WhatsApp group) or they may need walkie-talkies.

Clever Sponsors and Donations Team

This important team is usually best managed by one or more of your organization’s Board Members and has the key role of approaching major donors and sponsors. Since board members are the face of your organization, it is important to have their support in raising funds.

Provide these volunteers with the inspiration and tools needed to seek top donors and sponsors within your business community. Make it easier for them by offering in-depth education about your organization and its successes.

This team will work with the Public Relations Team to develop an information packet for donors and sponsors and organize booths for vendors and sponsors. Managing aspects of the walkathon website where sponsors are concerned is part of their function, as is maintaining donor reports and overseeing online thank you notes and tax deductible receipts.

There are many in-kind donations needed as part of planning a walkathon fundraiser that will help keep your costs down. Team leaders will need to gather in-kind donations for a possible breakfast, after party, water and healthy beverages along the walk, sunscreen, t-shirts, goodie bags and first aid products.

Cool Public Relations & Marketing Team

Recruiting celebrity participants for a walkathon is one of the most popular fundraising ideas and is done by the PR and marketing team. A celebrity participant can serve as a master of ceremony, and help to attract participation, media and donors. Attracting a locally respected figure is another angle – someone who the community looks up to.

The PR and marketing team members have many duties, including:

  • Designing and distributing print media for the walkathon such as signs, flyers and newsletters.
  • Setting up your walk for a cause website to collect donations and manage walk registrations.
  • Writing and managing press releases in a timely manner.
  • Working with local and national media, which is crucial to planning a walkathon in getting the word out.
  • Managing the event photography so that you´ll have great images to work with next year.
  • Creating digital marketing on social media platforms and writing blog articles.
  • Managing email campaigns to walkers and donors.

Gracious Hospitality Team

This vital team makes sure everyone is fed and has a good time! They handle all aspects of the breakfast before the walk, beverages and snacks during, and a fun after party. They should also be the ones in charge of alternatives should bad weather try to rain on the party.

Entertainment falls under their management, as well as warm-up activities before the walkathon such as yoga or Zumba. They will also handle the participant registration desk, making sure walkers get checked-in receive a warm welcome and are thanked for supporting the organization and its cause.

All walkathon teams work together to find volunteers to help in serving and supporting their participants and guests. They also recruit walkers and send notes of encouragement with tips to help them find donors – all teams pitch in with this, as it is the life force in planning a walkathon. Essential to any walk for charity is its walkers to find donors.

Once your walkathon planning teams are in place and motivated, you’re well on your way to successfully planning a walkathon. What comes next? DoJiggy has created a whitepaper on planning a walkathon, offering the details from start to finish. You’ll find lists for project teams that help in shaping their distinct roles, and give them action points to get an immediate start on managing your upcoming walkathon.

Maureen has been working with DoJiggy for 5 years, and has a strong background in nonprofit fundraising. While with The Nature Conservancy for 7 years prior, she learned the inner workings of marketing to the State of California within the external affairs department. Her heart is in her writing as she believes in the power of change through nonprofit organizations.

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