The Coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way most of us are living (at least when it comes to gatherings of more than 10 people). But that doesn’t mean development professionals and fundraisers need to toss their fundraising plans and start from scratch!
Surprisingly, you can turn a lot of events into successful virtual fundraisers, including charity runs! Hey, if the Boston Marathon can go virtual this year, we can, too! In fact, hosting a virtual charity run might be easier in some ways than an in-person run fundraiser!
Here’s a practical guide to help you move your run fundraiser to a virtual platform instead of scrapping it!
How to Organize a Virtual Run
What Is A Virtual Run Fundraiser?
A virtual race is a run (or walk) that people complete on their own. That means nobody has to wake up at unholy hours on a specific day, drive to the race location, hunt for parking, line up with all the other runners, and complete the race before the cutoff time.
Instead, people register online, and many virtual runs send race packages to participants, including a race bib, medal, t-shirt, or other items. Then, runners finish the distance at their own pace during a window of time (usually a few days or weeks). They upload their results from their smartphone, sports watch, or other GPS tracking devices, and share photos of their accomplishment.
Why You Should Host A Virtual Run Fundraiser?
Even before COVID-19, virtual runs were gaining popularity. The Gone For A Run Virtual Race Series, for example, had more than 40,000 participants of every ability and age category and from across the US and Canada!
Thanks to the Coronavirus, most organizations aren’t able to hold in-person running fundraisers, but there are some benefits to hosting a virtual run fundraiser that will still be true long after the pandemic is over.
Virtual run fundraisers are more accessible
Virtual races are much more relaxed and accessible for runners of all abilities. There’s no pressure to go fast or the need to finish by the cutoff time. And, because it’s not held at a specific location or on a particular day, virtually anyone can participate from anywhere!
Even children can participate in virtual run fundraisers, so the whole family can move their feet to make a difference in the world. It’s an excellent way to get your kids involved in causes that you care about.
Virtual charity runs help people stay motivated to reach fitness goals
More than ever, people are looking for some extrinsic motivation to keep moving toward their personal fitness goals. With the cancellation of so many "live" races and athletic events, people are more willing to turn to virtual events to have a "goal."
Even IRONMAN is using virtual races to keep athletes engaged, and tens of thousands of people are participating each week. So, by hosting virtual run fundraisers, you can tap into people’s desire to reach fitness goals and make a difference in the world at the same time! That’s a powerful combination.
Virtual charity runs help people raise awareness for the causes they care about
Most virtual run fundraisers encourage participants to post photos and share their achievements on social media. Many people benefit from being able to contribute "sweat equity" to their financial support.
People actually want to DO something to change the world. Running a virtual 5K might not make a big difference. Still, it’s empowering to give your time, energy, and money toward a good cause.
It’s easier for your supporters to share about your organization and the causes they support when they can tell people what they’re doing in support. Hosting a virtual run fundraiser gives some structure to people’s advocacy for your organization.
How To Organize A Virtual Run Fundraiser?
Hosting a virtual run fundraiser is actually much easier than organizing an in-person charity run. You won’t need to worry about reserving a park, mapping the route, closing streets, or even getting volunteers to man the water stops!
Organize the logistics
Virtual runs have far fewer logistics to plan than in-person events, but there are still a few things to plan (and think about).
Will you track the finish times? Not every virtual athletic fundraiser tracks people’s finish times, but if you want to attract more avid runners, consider providing finisher rankings. It probably won’t matter to everyone, but it’s worth offering for those who do care about these things.
If you decide to track finish times, determine how you would like people to verify their times and distances (and date). This is much easier now that most people own smartphones, smartwatches, FitBits, Garmins, and other fitness tracking devices. Some events even allow people to email screenshots of the fitness tracker on their phone with the relevant information. Whatever method you choose, be sure to outline how participants should submit their finish times.
Will you offer "swag bags" to participants? Most in-person runs give "swag" to participants. T-shirts, hats, socks, gloves, water bottles, race bibs, and finisher medals are the most popular swag options. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but it sure helps attract more runners!
Decide what you can afford to put in each participant’s swag bag. One way to reduce your overhead is to offer swag bags only to people who pay a slightly higher entry fee or for an additional cost (this is a fundraiser, after all).
How will you mail the swag? As soon as you decide what swag you will offer, get an estimate of how much it will cost to ship the items to each participant. It’s essential to get an accurate estimate of how much everything will cost so you can set the right entry fee.
What registration system will you use? Everyone needs to be able to sign up and pay quickly. People won’t be very interested in messing with complicated registration processes.
Having a quality event and registration page also gives your organization legitimacy. It ensures you stand out from all the scams and questionable things on the wild wild web. If you want to entice a lot of race entrants, it’s essential to have a quality, reliable registration site (like the Soapbox Engage Events app).
Choose an event time
There’s really no wrong time to host a virtual run event, but there are ways to choose more effective periods to hold your event.
Many organizations try to hold their virtual run events around significant dates. For example, you might organize an anniversary run on the date your nonprofit was established. Other organizations choose times that are significant to their cause, like a landmark court case.
You might also consider the weather. If you hold a virtual run in the winter, it might be less pleasant for your supporters in the bitter cold north. On the other hand, your supporters in Texas or Florida will probably have some strong opinions about running in the dead of summer. You can’t please everyone, but consider where the majority of your support base lives when you schedule your virtual run.
Most people appreciate having more than a day or two to complete their run. People have busy schedules and might not be able to squeeze a run in on one day, but if you give people a week to complete the event, more people can participate.
Build a strong web presence and promote your event
In addition to an event page, you’ll need plenty of buzz about your virtual run fundraiser on all social media fronts. Create a Facebook event. Put together a few short videos talking about what you’re raising money for and why you chose a virtual run.
Facebook can be one of your best advertising avenues. Many runners connect with other running communities via Facebook, so it’s a natural place to share virtual running events. Plus, participants will be able to share photos of their accomplishments and their race swag and tag your organization. Create a hashtag so people can find and follow the event easily across a variety of social media platforms.
You should also promote your virtual event directly to online running groups. Plenty of running groups have vibrant online communities. They are always looking for running events to do together--especially if there’s a good cause attached!
Don’t forget to promote the accomplishments of your participants after the event is over! Highlight their achievements on your social media platforms and ask some finishers to share quotes, stories, and other content.
Now you’re ready to host your first virtual run fundraiser! Here are three more resources to help you put together a fantastic virtual fundraising event.
- Virtual Fitness Fundraising Ideas For Any Nonprofit: Virtual fundraisers aren’t limited to running events. There are plenty of fitness activities that people can use to fundraise and raise awareness for your organization. This blog will help you launch more virtual fundraising events for people who want to stay active.
- 6 Tips for Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: Many virtual run fundraisers mobilize the athletes to fundraise for the cause--peer-to-peer fundraising. Here are some suggestions for using P2P fundraising for your virtual run fundraiser.
- Write a Fundraising Plan That Converts More Donors: Do you know how your virtual run fundraiser fits into your larger fundraising plan? Almost every financially stable nonprofit develops a fundraising plan. Here’s how you can create one for your organization.