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athon fundraising guide

Let's start with the basics, shall we? What is Athon Fundraising?

Athon Fundraising is basically a combination of raising money and a duration of participant activity, such as reading, running, walking, bowling, bicycling, etc. Money is raised through pledges, in which people will support a participant, or group of participants, for their involvement with the event.

Traditionally, we have seen athon fundraising for organizations like March of Dimes or Run for a Cure, in which people do marathons in order to raise money and awareness for widespread issues. 

However, athon fundraising can be used by any group looking to fundraise! The principles are the same, whether you’re raising money for cancer research or new playground equipment for a school. The key is the idea of peer-to-peer fundraising, meaning participants fundraise on behalf of organizations by asking friends, family, coworkers, etc. to donate on their behalf.

In fact, 50% of people who took action and signed up for an event did so because a friend or family member asked them to participate. 

Think about it, we are all more willing to give to an organization or cause if someone we know or love asks us to get involved, that principle is at the heart of athon fundraising!

This guide is intended to help those new to the world of athon fundraising find the path that works for them and get equipped with the knowledge necessary to succeed!

How to Organize an Athon Fundraiser

Understanding Your Budget & Setting Your Goals

Fundraising, at its core, is about the money: 

  • How much do you need to raise total?
  • How much does each participant need to raise?
  • How will the money be broken up and distributed? 
  • Can you meet your budgetary needs with a single fundraiser? 

These questions are key when deciding whether or not to do athon fundraising. It is good to be specific when answering these questions in the planning stage, as parents and the community will want to know exactly where their money is going. “General budget needs” does not create a visual because it’s simply too broad, but sports equipment, a field trip, better cafeteria amenities, research to help cure cancer, these are all needs that will be met or helped by the donations made through you’re athon fundraiser. 

Plus, having a solid goal keeps you on track during the fundraising process so you can adjust, if needed, during the life of your fundraiser. When deciding your goal, it's important to have reasonable expectations. Take into consideration what you have raised in the past during a similar season and the socioeconomics of your community. 

After you have set your fundraising goal and determined where the money will go, it is time to set the individual goal. Remember, athon fundraising is a group effort, and each participant will need to know his or her individual goal so they have a set bar to reach and the motivation to reach it. 

Forming Your Team & Getting Volunteers

A great fundraiser begins with a solid team! And your fundraising team should be diverse to ensure success.

Meaning, if teamyou have a team of only big picture dreamers and no practical financial planners then you’re athon fundraiser can risk being great in theory, but not so great when it comes to keeping track of the numbers. 

From our experience with working with groups, both small and large, we recommend designating 4 roles to your core team:

  1. Event Coordinator: Roles and responsibilities are focused on communication and overseeing the entire event to keep everyone on task with their duties.
  2. Event Planner: This role is perfect for the creative one in the bunch. Responsibilities include organizing the event, brainstorming ways to make the fundraiser more unique and successful, and working closely with the Event Coordinator.
  3. Event Promoter: This person will be the cheerleader for the event, promoting your fundraiser to volunteers, participants, donors and the community, while using various methods (like social media) to maximize pledges. More on promotion below!
  4. Event Financial Planner: This role is perfect for someone who has an eye for detail and is meticulous in staying organized and tracking the numbers. 

Once you have your core team in place, getting volunteers to help with the fundraising process or to assist on the day of the event will largely depend on the scope of your fundraiser. For instance, our local clients don’t have much need for volunteers because we are there to help with the kick-off assembly and the day of the event. But, our national clients sometimes find it necessary to recruit volunteers. This can be done through general promotion, or you can task each member of your committee to get 3-5 volunteers. 

Building an effective Fundraising Event Team is all about organizing roles and sharing the responsibility. And, as the old adage goes, there’s no “I” in TEAM, so check the egos at the door and work together to put on an amazing athon fundraiser!

Making (& Sticking to!) Your Timeline

It may seem obvious, but to host an athon fundraiser, a basic step is to pick a date! Athon fundraising works on the premise of an event, with all the planning, promoting and pledging leading up to a single day in which it all comes together. But, this means that there needs to be a timeline arranged at the beginning of the process to ensure that you’re athon event is a success. Here are a few items to consider with your committee:

  • What is the date and start time of your event?
  • Where will it be located? And what is your backup location?
  • What is the scope of your fundraiser? Are you looking to involve the whole city, a certain community, a single school/neighborhood/other group?

These questions will help you and your team to begin to formulate the basic framework of you’re athon fundraiser. After considering the basics, you’re ready to formulate the timeline of your event, which should generally break down into: 

  • Planning stage
  • Kicking off the fundraiser
  • Leading up to event day
  • Event day
  • Post-event 

Many of your tasks will overlap across this timeline, but it is important to set smaller goals within these blocks of time and to coordinate member tasks according to this structure. A timeline also makes athon fundraising, which can be overwhelming for those new to the process, a more manageable feat!

Lastly, it’s not a bad idea to make parts of your timeline public to your participants and donors. This can help keep people informed, motivated and pressured (in a good way!) to bring in those pledges. Since it can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months between a typical kick-off date and the event, it is easy for people to lose interest along the way. Keeping people informed along the way makes sure that goals are met and that you’re athon fundraiser stays on track.

Picking a Type of Athon Fundraiser

Athon fundraisers are as diverse as the people who run them! You can almost make a marathon out of any activity, and movin' max pushupmany groups have been very adventurous with their choices (aerobics marathon, anyone?). What’s important to keep in mind is: 

  1. Your participants: what are they capable of? What are their limitations? 
  2. Your donors: What will get their attention? What activity will motivate them to pledge 
  3. Your purpose: Is there an activity that fits with your purpose/cause? Is there a way of incorporating your end goal into the activity?

Our Favorite Athon Fundraisers

While it would be a bit much to list every possible kind of athon fundraiser, we thought it might be helpful to list our favorites to help get your creative juices flowing! 

  • Dance-Athon
  • Ride-Athon (anything from a bike to a horse!)
  • Read-Athon
  • Exercise-Athon (who doesn’t love 12 straight hours of Zumba??)
  • Craft-Athon
  • And, of course, the FUN RUN!

The great thing about athon fundraising is that the framework is applicable to various activities, making it the ideal annual fundraiser because you can add in variety each year!

Promoting Your Athon Fundraiser

You can’t really have an athon fundraiser if you don’t get people involved, so it’s vital that you are promoting your fundraiser throughout the process (not just the day before the event). The idea is to build excitement, motivate participants, and encourage people to pledge. Basically, the more you promote, the more you’ll raise!

The first step in promoting your event is simply getting the word out by advertising it to participants, donors, and the community. Create posters to hang around the community, organize a kick-off assembly or meeting, publish a press release in your local newspaper, communicate with people individually through phone calls or email, set up information tables at local events like sports games or fairs. The methods for advertising are numerous and diverse, and they are covered in more depth in some of our past blog posts. For this guide we just want to stress the importance of promotion and to highlight an important promotional aspect of athon fundraising: the sponsor!

Getting Local Sponsors

Many of our clients have found that one of the best ways to raise money for their event-based fundraisers is to get the community involved through local business sponsorship. The first step is to inform businesses of 1. Your cause and 2. The incentives of sponsorship. 

Depending on the scope of your fundraiser and the level of community support, you may wish to create and advertise different sponsorship levels (bronze, silver, gold) that are associated with different monetary amounts. For example, a gold level sponsorship may get a business listed on a recognition banner at the event, a link to their company website on your fundraising webpage, and a special certificate they can display in their business.

Bringing in Pledges

Pledges are what turn your fun event into a successful fundraiser! 

The pledge period is the length of time from the day you kick off your fundraiser until the day of your event. We recommend a three-week pledge period (especially if this is the first time you're doing a pledge-based fundraiser or first time doing it yourself!). This timeframe is ideal for setting goals (and reaching them!) throughout the fundraising process. For example, we typically encourage clients to have 70% of their fundraising goal by the day before their scheduled event. 

Rewards Incentives

We recommend checking out a previous blog post about fundraising incentives for more about the positive and negative aspects of rewards & prizes. For now, we want to give a brief overview of the kinds of incentives we recommend for motivating participants to bring in big pledges. 

At TGMC, we prefer the term “reward incentives” as opposed to “prizes.” Prizes are something won and forgotten, but rewards are earned through work and dedication. For anyone looking to do athon fundraising, we encourage you to incorporate a system of rewards for individuals or groups who meet certain goals. 

Many of the reward incentives that we suggest using are experience-based, like a free movie and popcorn, because these create lasting memories for participants, rather than a material good that can be easily forgotten. However, our most successful clients have well-rounded incentive rewards that range from small goodies (t-shirts, for example) to big experience rewards (it’s not everyday students get to turn their principal into a human sundae!).

Online Donations

Athon fundraising has been so popular, in part, because it has incorporated online components, whether that means a PayPal button or an entire online program (hint, hint, that’s us!). By offering donors the option of giving online or in person, organizations are able to drastically increase both the number of donations and the amounts. For instance, our clients typically raise 70% of their funds through our online services. 

Hosting the Event

After all of your hard work leading up to this point, the day of the event is a much-anticipated celebration of what you have movin crewaccomplished. It is also the main time when people will give to your fundraiser, so make sure to be focused on your goal even when the event is underway. 

Prior to the event, make sure your location is dressed up with decorations, informative signs, any necessary tables or stations for food and drink, and a spot for the DJ. You will need to be prepared to organize volunteers, get the participants going in whatever activity is at hand, address any audience members of spectators, and have a schedule on hand so you stay on track! 

Lastly, make sure on the day of the event that you have fun: Mistakes may happen, no one will know except for you, so just roll with it and Keep Movin’ forward!

We know that we have just scratched the surface of athon fundraising with this guide, but that’s the point! We want to provide new fundraisers with the basic foundation of marathon fundraising so they can take the framework and apply it to their specific cause/goal. 

We hope this was helpful and we encourage you to learn more about what we offer here at TGMC for groups looking to use event-based fundraising for their budgetary needs. A majority of the content you just read was derived from the step-by-step guides available in our Event Toolbox for anyone who teams up with us for their fundraiser.  Want to learn more about what we have to offer? Check out our free (and fun) online tour!


Sources: Peer to Peer Event Fundraising Consumer Survey, Blackbaud Cumulative 2011-2012