How can nonprofits plan successful endurance events?

Cheryl Pompeo

By Cheryl Pompeo

America seems to be going fitness crazy. In the past decade, the popularity of 5Ks, half-marathons, and Spartan races has exploded. And many nonprofits have hitched their wagon to the train, looking to endurance events as a way to fundraise and gain exposure.

But like a newbie runner encountering shin splints for the first time, nonprofits discover that organizing an endurance event is not as simple as just racing out of the door. With events seemingly scheduled every weekend between Easter and Thanksgiving, many nonprofits find out the hard way that just organizing a race does not mean the runners will come. So how can an organization ensure a successful position in a crowded field?

For starters, don’t race. And we’re not talking about your employees participating in the race (that’s highly encouraged). We’re saying give your nonprofit plenty of time to plan. In most cases, you’ll need at least a year to successfully organize an event, particularly since finding and reserving a course is a process that requires significant lead time.

As with any large project, you’ll want to assemble the right team to organize an endurance event. It’s ideal to have a planning committee of volunteers who will work with a staff member on race recruitment, logistics, fundraising, and promotion. Of course, having beneficiaries of your organization and any individuals with connection to the running community on the committee will increase the chances of success.

Once you have the right people in place, the decision-making and planning process can begin. And perhaps the most important decision is what kind of race to hold, and when to hold it. This decision is best informed by the goals of your own organization: A nonprofit looking to reinvigorate an established donor community may benefit from a low-key race in its own back yard, while an organization seeking a new donor base may want to expand to different niches or geographic areas.

It’s also important to clear major logistical hurdles first. By working to secure a race location, date, and corporate sponsor, the committee can then turn its attention to promotion and planning. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a nonprofit’s goal to win the gold with their first race. We actually recommend planning endurance events in three-year phases and emphasize growth over huge financial success in the first year.

But that’s not to say inaugural endurance events can’t be a hit on the first go-around. Dunleavy & Associates recently helped a client plan a new race that drew 350 participants and buoyed its constituent base. If your organization is considering holding an endurance event but is unsure of its capacity to successfully plan, it may be beneficial to seek out a planning partner to help make your event successful.

About the author: Cheryl Pompeo is Senior Project Manager at Dunleavy & Associates and brings nearly a decade of experience in special event and volunteer management experience to the firm. Formerly a Senior Director of Special Events and a Regional Director for a Philadelphia area healthcare nonprofit, Cheryl also specializes in campaign fundraising, corporate development, donor cultivation, board and committee development, and program delivery. Cheryl uses her knowledge to help Dunleavy’s Clients strategically plan and implement endurance events, including walks, runs, and marathon campaigns.