Are Charity Walks/Runs a Dying Fundraising Breed, Or Are They Just Changing?

nonprofit strategy

The Turkey Trot. The Shamrock Shuffle. The Color Run. The Rock ‘n Roll Race.

There’s a fundraising race, walk, jump, ride and ‘thon for practically every holiday, season and month nowadays.

Most of us are not strangers to this fundraising craze. Millions of Americans constantly seek out family, friends and colleagues to sponsor them in events ranging from one-mile “fun runs” and mud-filled obstacle challenges to head-shaving events, jump rope competitions and 100-mile bike treks.

While each of these events is certainly a feel-good phenomenon that has helped raise millions of dollars for countless nonprofits over the past several decades, some organizations are pausing to carefully weigh their ultimate benefits.


Not for the Faint of Heart

According to an Outside magazine article, a survey of the top 30 run/walk-related programs showed a total drop of $44.5 million in 2013. This decrease doesn’t tell the entire story.

So why have the actual dollars raised been fizzling in recent years? One puzzling aspect to ponder is that they aren’t necessarily the most economically-sound type of fundraisers – for the nonprofit or the participant. Think about it: with the expenses of portable toilets, signage and security presence, fundraising walks and runs are not cheap to begin with.

And because event participants today have so many options, organizers are being forced to distinguish themselves with enhanced race and event amenities. They feel the pressure to offer t-shirts, trendy gift bags, live music and food to compete for participants.

This increase in overhead costs not only shrinks the funds that actually impact the cause, but can draw criticism from supporters.


Changing of the Guard   

There’s no doubt there’s been a lot of buzz lately about this type of fundraising. As a result, many organizations are now recognizing the need to revise their strategies to meet the demands of this evolving fundraising world. While incorporating new techniques and technologies, they must also focus on supporting and educating participants on a much more personal level to reach even bigger fundraising goals.

Moving forward, nonprofits must work harder to innovate and customize their events in order to keep them from becoming a dying breed.

Don’t get me wrong, nonprofits can still raise significant money and attract new supporters through some of the tried-and-true models that have endured for decades. I do believe there is still a future of some kind for “old-school” fundraising walks — that is, if they are well organized.

Whether it’s based on walking around a track, scaling a mud-surrounded climbing wall or shaving a head, these events have the best chance for long-term success only if the nonprofit can successfully train and motivate paid staff and volunteers, leverage storytelling and marketing tactics to communicate more effectively, and empower fundraising participants by giving them the tools and support they need.

The bottom line: the walk is not dead; I believe that it’s simply evolving. Nonprofits should start looking at innovating their programs now—both through re-imagining their existing fundraising events, as well as launching new plans that appeal to more diverse and broader types of audiences.


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