Planning the Ultimate Peer-to-Peer Walkathon Fundraiser

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If you were to take a poll of a random group of Americans, there is a good chance that over half of them have participated in a charity walkathon fundraiser at one point or another. Peer-to-peer events like walkathon fundraisers have become so popular in recent years thanks to their social and competitive nature. Run/walk fundraisers typically rely on donor networking, social channels, and assorted mini-competitions to gain participants and grow donations.

While there are literally tons of innovative fundraising resourcesthat praise the benefits of peer-to-peer walkathons, it can be hard for nonprofit teams to focus on the critical must-haves. This guide will help your team launch a successful run/walk event.

Getting Started

As your team starts planning your peer-to-peer walkathon event, you’re going to need the right solutions to help make it successful. Check with your current online fundraising platform partner to see if there are any peer-to-peer modules available to your team.

If you’re starting from the beginning, you’ll need to evaluate possible platforms to find one that works well with the type of run/walk events you’ll be planning. Here are a few key points when evaluating possible peer-to-peer fundraising solutions:

Is it participant-friendly?

  • Your donors should be able to easily register, raise money, and invite other participants through the platform.
  • For walkathons, participants should also be able to sign up as a group (or an individual charity, depending on the size of your event) and easily add new walkers/runners to their group.
  • Make sure the platform also supports custom registration needs and order changes, which are common for run/walks.
  • While most donations will be made online, the platform should also have a way to add offline donations to a participant’s total.

What are the social elements?

  • At their core, peer-to-peer events are built around social networking, and any modern online fundraising platform should capitalize on this opportunity.
  • Your new platform should seamlessly integrate with all available social channels.
  • It should be easy for participants to automatically connect their social channels into their online account.
  • Participants must also be able to fundraise and invite new walkers and runners directly from their social accounts

What does the mobile experience look like? Today’s fundraising has embraced the mobile lifestyle. Mobile giving has increased 80% since 2013, and your team must be able to capitalize on this growth. Make sure your online fundraising platform is mobile-responsive, and that it promotes sharing, engagement, and donations all from a mobile device.

  • Is it admin-friendly? While an amazing participant experience is important, you need to make sure your new solution is easy for your internal team to use as well. Look for reports and insights that are easy to understand, a back-end that is easy to set up and design, and a platform that can easily integrate with your other fundraising software.
  • How does the gamification work? All peer-to-peer events have some element of gamification to them, and run/walks are no different. People love to compete with each other for a good cause. Check out the gamification elements and make sure there are multiple features to engage and motivate participants. Look for ways to recognize your top donors, award achievement badges, and showcase leader boards in a fun and engaging way.

With your new peer-to-peer fundraising solution in place, it’s time to hit the ground running and start planning the ultimate charity run/walk!

Step 1 - The Planning Stage

Step 1: The Planning Stage

You already know how important it is to plan in advance, but peer-to-peer events like walkathons require even more logistical support than most events. While it can be tempting to skip ahead to the actual day-of event and leave the finer details to chance, having a strong foundation will prove to be the difference between a 3-star walkathon and a 5-star walkathon.

1. When it comes to planning, the earlier the better

Once your team decides to host a walkathon, the planning has begun. Just setting a time and date that works with both your team and other members of the community will take a while, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The iceberg beneath is tied to decisions. Decisions that need to be made are the number one thing that trip up successful planning. The more decisions that can be made during the planning phase, the better set you’ll be to build, launch, and promote the event.

Try to launch your peer-to-peer online fundraising site at least 3 months before your actual event, and include important details like the time, date, and location of your walkathon. It’s also a good idea to include background information on your organization and the charity (or charities) your event is benefiting. Make sure your peer-to-peer online fundraising site includes all the details on your peer-to-peer campaigns and challenges for added engagement (see the BUILD stage for more details).

2. Identify your goals, and stick to them

With the right goals in place, everything else should fall into place. Think about what you want to achieve with your walkathon: how many participants you’re hoping for, how many donors you’re looking to attract, how much you want to raise, etc. Peer-to-peer event goals can usually be divided into two buckets: financial and non-financial. Think about the impact of each of these buckets and, taking into account your marketing plan, set clear goals for your event.

Once a goal is set – stick to it. A good starting point here is to look back at past peer-to-peer events your organization has hosted as well as previous walkathon in your community to identify meaningful benchmarks and set new fundraising goals. Your financial goals are easier to achieve when they’re grounded in reality than if they are just pulled out of thin air.  

3. Set your budget (with a little wiggle-room)

While peer-to-peer events are incredibly popular and are often very successful, they can also require large operating budgets. Be prepared to set your event budget during the same conversation as you set your goals, because they are both dependent on one other. Consider of all the aspects that will cost your team money: paying staff, route permits, marketing collateral, your online fundraising platform, any event expenses, and incidentals.

With this list in mind, and knowing your goal for how much you want to raise, you can set a strong budget. Add a little wiggle-room in there, however, as you never know what may happen (rain dates, anyone?) when it comes to live outdoor events like runs/walks.  

Come up with a creative campaign

While hosting a run/walk, there needs to be a cohesive theme tying your event together. Come up with some creative campaign ideas to get those registrations coming in. Find a creative, enjoyable concept to build your event around. This includes developing a strong, clear brand and message for immediate participant recognition.

Make your event memorable and unique by adding in activities and contests in the weeks leading up to your run/walk event.

Finally, use an online leader board so participants can see how other runners/walkers stack up. Then, on the day of your event, make sure you have a creative way to recognize these leaders (aka a badge, t-shirt, jersey, pin, etc.). Whatever you decide, determine your concept early so that you can get your online site set up and ensure participants are easily onboarded.

Bonus list – 3 creative ideas to kick-start your next walkathon:

  1. Have participants raise funds in the name of someone (or an organization) who has touched their lives in a positive way.
  2. Set up a challenge component that allows participants to challenge friends and family members via social media – in exchange for a donation.
  3. Work with a third-party vendor so participants can automatically send handwritten notes or gifts to those who’ve gifted large donations to their pages.

Step 2 - The Building Stage

Step 2: The Building Stage

With all of the planning accounted for, now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and build the event. The majority of the Building stage is attributed to setting up your peer-to-peer online fundraising site to ensure it’s participant friendly and ready to start accepting donors. The first thing these new (and returning) donors will see is your peer-to-peer online fundraising site, which is what makes the Building stage so critical – without a top-tier fundraising platform, you could be missing out on some serious donations.

As you build out your walkathon peer-to-peer online fundraising site, there are three main categories to think about: the design, the content, and the modules. Make sure you’re going into the Build stage with a good idea of who your ideal participants and donors are in order to tailor the messaging and actions to draw their attention.

Designing your Fundraising Site

Your peer-to-peer online fundraising site will be the one-stop shop for anyone who wants to know about your organization or your event. The pages should be designed with this in mind; leading visitors to a clear CTA: register or give a gift in support. Here are some critical questions to think about as you’re designing your peer-to-peer online fundraising site:

 

  • Is this a competitive race or a more casual run/walk event? Are there any qualifying measures for participants? Will you be having different heats or groups on the day of the event?
  • Do participants sign up individually or as a group? Will they designate ‘run’ or ‘walk’ on their registration form? Can parents sign up their children on the same form?
  • How much is registration? Can participants donate extra outside of their registration fee? What about donating without participating in the run/walk?
  • How can sponsors connect with your organization? Is there a separate page that houses all sponsor-specific details? What about sponsor logos – where are those on your site?

Developing your Content

Because charity run/walks are so incredibly popular in today’s fundraising landscape, those who participate in them are pretty well-versed in the language and terms of this particular peer-to-peer campaign. As you’re building out your peer-to-peer online fundraising site content, take time to address any issues or questions that might come up (think ‘FAQ’ page). Are there restrooms on site? Will there be merchandise for sale? Can participants purchase merchandise at the point of registration?

Answering as many of these questions as possible can help increase registrations and make the day-of logistics run much smoother. Additionally, many of these items can be made easier with a thoughtful planning phase.

Planning Engagement & Motivation

One of the elements that makes peer-to-peer events stand out from their counterparts is ongoing engagement and competition. By challenging their friends, family, and social networks, participants can increase donations and raise brand awareness for your organization. For best results, add some of the following engagement modules to your website:

  • Leader boards to recognize and reward individuals and teams in different categories (fundraising, social sharing, recruiting)
  • Triggered emails to send encouraging updates that keep participants engaged
  • Badges that highlight participant achievement in fundraising and overall involvement, such as “Stellar Fundraiser” or “Rockstar Runner”
  • Galleries and social feeds that pull in all of the photos, videos and social posts being shared

Step 3 - The Launch Stage

Step 3: The Launch Stage

After all that hard work, it’s finally time to show off your new peer-to-peer online fundraising site to an audience. Once your peer-to-peer online fundraising site is live, questions and registrations will start pouring in, so make sure all of your marketing messaging is well informed on the plan and that your back-end team is ready to handle the incoming traffic. There are three sub-steps to know in the Launch stage:

Review: Check, double check, and then check again! Make sure all of your forms work, that the sign-up processes is easy to navigate, and that all accounting workflows are running smoothly. Have a site testing plan in place that includes a checklist to make sure everything is in working order. And finally, have someone from outside your organization (a friend or family member) do a once-through as well to make sure everything makes sense – sometimes if we are too close to the content we can miss glaring mistakes.

Soft Launch: Take your peer-to-peer online fundraising site live, but don’t start promoting your walkathon quite yet. Send your link to a few trusted donors or board members for a final round of reviews, but this time take it a step further. Have your board members engage with the social links. See if the leader board is working correctly, and make any edits (if you notice any errors) directly to your live peer-to-peer online fundraising site.

Public Launch: Now it’s time to hit the ground running. As your promotions start rolling out (check out the next section for more details on this), your peer-to-peer online fundraising site will start seeing an uptick in traffic.

Step 4 - The Promotion Stage

Step 4: The Promotion Stage

If your nonprofit team is heavily focused on marketing instead of logistics, this will probably end up being your favorite part of the walkathon process. One of the biggest benefits of a peer-to-peer fundraising event is the fact that organizers can rely on participants to drive a good portion of participation. With the help of social media, all your team needs is a well-planned outbound campaign and you’ll be set!

Outbound campaigns
These include traditional email promotions, digital ads, and more. Any print collateral that you would hang up in, let’s say, a Runner’s Forum or Finish Line store also constitutes an outbound campaign. These types of campaigns are great for walkathon because they can promote your event to different groups of people who like participating in new charity events. Plus, the running community is big on trying out new ways to reach their goals, and many don’t think twice about signing up for a charity event. It’s your responsibility to hook them with your messaging and turn them into a repeat donor!

Social media
For your next walkathon fundraiser, take your social media strategy to the next level by following as many community influencers and running community influencers as possible. Also follow any participants who interact with your event via social. Make sure you’re using your event hashtag in all of your posts to up the engagement factor.

Peer-to-peer engagement
If your peer-to-peer online fundraising site was set up correctly, your participants should be able to easily create their own fundraising pages, share their progress, and engage their networks to work towards a fundraising goal. Create all of the necessary content on your webpage so participants can quickly set up their personal page and easily invite other to join and donate.

As you’re busy running campaigns and promoting the event, keep in mind that your organization has the ability to create buzz, excitement, and anticipation leading up to the launch. Don’t rely too heavily on a loud cold open or cold launch in case you don’t see the results you were planning to!

Step 5 - The Follow-up Stage

Step 5: The Follow-up Stage

After the last walker has crossed the finish line and all the awards ceremonies are over, your job is just getting started. In fact, it’s pretty common for donations to continue to come for a month or more following your run/walk event. Continue social posts and other low-touch promotions so that participants never lose awareness of your organization. These follow-ups are also a great way to cross-promote other events your organization hosts.

The Follow-Up stage is one of the most important parts of a run/walk, and it’s definitely not the place to start cutting corners. Here are some Follow-Up best practices to remember:

  • Follow-up with EVERYONE including participants, sponsors, donors, special guests, and volunteers. This will make everyone feel as though they have a special, personal relationship with your organization, and will bring people back next year. Nothing builds meaningful relationships like personal communication!
  • Report on donations and registrations throughout the process to ensure a successful event. Reporting is especially important after the facts so that that your team can dig into the data and understand what was successful, and what needs fine-tuning going forward.
  • Drive (even more) donations through your peer-to-peer online fundraising site. Keep your website up and running, but change the messaging to thank people for attending and get them ready for the next event. Keep posting on your organization’s social pages and keep up low-touch engagement with donors.
  • Send out a survey to grade how well your event was received. You can ask participants about the facilities, the course, the registration process, your promotions, the awards ceremony, and more. Having insight into how your participants felt about the event will also help you identify opportunities to further differentiate your event in order to retain participants and encourage more first-time participants to join.

Peer-to-peer events are a constant cycle of creativity and engagement, and with the right planning process in place your walkathon will only continue to grow in popularity.

WANT MORE? Check out these Peer-to-Peer resources for tips to help you raise more and reach more.

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