Organize a Walk or Run for Charity

Charity runs and walks are a great way to raise money for a worthy cause. They bring people together and can be the inspiration some people need to get healthy and fit. Organizing a race can be a lot of work, but if you have enough time and a little bit of help, you can do it.


Selecting and Working With a Charity

  1. Identify a charity to work with. Your first step should be to identify the specific charity to which you will donate the proceeds from your event. You'll likely already have a cause or even an organization in mind, but you'll have to be specific about your target charity to obtain their permission to use their name. Adding the name of a well-known charitable organization can also give a certain amount of legitimacy to your event.
    • If you don't know what organization to support, try organizing an event with a corresponding awareness day or month. For example, many breast cancer fundraisers are held in October, as it is breast cancer awareness month.
    • Timing your event in this way can also give your event free public exposure (through newspaper articles and other media coverage).[1]
  2. Contact the organization. In order to raise money on the charitable organization's behalf, you'll need to have their permission. Call or write your chosen organization requesting their go-ahead to start planning and organizing your event. They may also be able to provide you with help or guidance in planning or advertising your event.[2]
  3. Work out an agreement. Odds are, the organization will have some specific guidelines for external fundraising events (those events not directly organized by the charity). These may include budgeting or advertising rules, limits on the use of their name, or a specific list of responsibilities they will have (or not have).[2] Work with the organization to set these boundaries and gain a deeper understanding of your event's relationship with them. Some more advanced organizations may even have specialized proposal and agreement forms for this purpose. In this case, be sure to fill them out completely and accurately.[3]
  4. Figure out whether or not fees will be tax-deductible for participants. One thing to focus on when working with the charitable organization is whether or not your participants' race fees will be tax-deductible. Tax-exempt donations can attract even more participants, and will definitely help attract larger donors like local businesses.

Setting Goals for Your Fundraiser

  1. Set a financial goal. Much of your organizing will depend on how much money you’re trying to raise. Before you make other decisions, set a goal. Try to be realistic, particularly if this is your first time organizing something like this.[4]
    • Your financial goal may be based on a specific need. For example, if the local church needs $5,000 to fix the roof, then $5,000 might be a good goal to shoot for.
    • Setting a goal also means creating a budget. For example, you may want to raise $5,000; but if the cost of organizing the race will be $2,000, you’ll need to raise $7,000 in order to still make your fundraising goal.
  2. Figure out how to fund the initial costs. You will need money to pay for things like planning, obtaining permits, and buying supplies. One option is to seek someone to underwrite the upfront expense. This institution can then be repaid from the proceeds before the charity receives its contribution. This underwriter can be a sponsor, a local bank, or in some cases the charitable organization to which you are donating.
  3. Set a date based on your financial goal. The more money you’re trying to raise, the further in advance you’ll likely need to organize your race. That’s because more time gives you greater opportunities to do outreach, build support, and find sponsorships.[4]
    • For a smaller race, you should be able to organize the event with about nine weeks notice if your committee is able to dedicate time each week to organizing.
    • If you’re trying to draw a large number of participants from out of town, you’ll need more time to organize and get the word out. Some races like this are planned an entire year ahead of time.
    • Other events might be competing with your event and may draw participants from your race. This is why scheduling is very important, especially during popular seasons for running.
  4. Choose a name and a theme. Your race will definitely need a name. Choosing a theme is optional, but it’s a great way to distinguish your race and get people excited about it.[5]
    • Your name can include something about the charity you’re benefitting. For example, you could call it, “The Downtown 5k for Animals,” or, “November Walk Against Cancer.”
    • If you choose a theme, make sure your name reflects the theme. It could be something like, “Zombie Run Against Hunger,” or, “The Underwear 10k.”
    • Some popular themes ask participants to dress in costumes, or put them through obstacles such as mud or color bombs.
    • The committee should agree on the name and the theme, and include these in all promotional materials.
  5. Ask your local running store for help. If there’s a store in your town that caters to runners, they may be happy to help with some aspects of the organizing. They’ve likely been involved in local races before, so they will know what goes into it.[6]
    • The store may be interested in sponsoring the event, or they may ask for payment in return for offering support services for the race. Make sure to be clear about what kind of help you’re looking for and if you’re prepared to pay for their support.
    • Speak directly to the manager or owner. Whatever kind of support ends up being negotiated, be sure to create a written contract to prevent misunderstandings.
  6. Choose a route. Scouting potential routes may be one committee member’s job; however, everyone on the committee should get a chance to see the options and approve the choice of route.[5] Remember, too, that you will need the cooperation of the police or local government if your route requires road closures.
    • Pick a few different route options to present to the city. It’s possible that they will turn down your application for a permit if the route would be too disruptive to traffic or business, so do your research and understand the criteria that will be considered when you propose your route.
    • The topography will partly determine who participates in your race. For example, if you choose a very hilly route, people who aren’t very athletic may feel intimidated and not sign up.
    • You can use online tools to map your route and be sure the length is correct. However, make sure to walk or drive the route yourself to be sure it’s a viable route for your race.
  7. Obtain the necessary permits. You will need event permits or licenses from city or county, depending upon where event will be held. This may include local police for traffic control or organizing the closure of roadways on race day. Getting these permits may also require you to hold insurance coverage for the race and your own organization.[5]
    • If your route requires street closures, it may involve a number of different agencies, including the police, fire department, city counsel, and department of transportation.
    • You may need to submit a petition to show that the majority (51% or more) of the residences and businesses support road closures that would affect them.[7]
  8. Approach potential sponsors. Sponsorships are a great way to offset the costs of the race. Local businesses and organizations may be enthusiastic about supporting your efforts when you explain what cause the race is supporting.[6]
    • You can draft a form letter seeking sponsorships, but be sure to follow up in person or by phone.
    • You can create different sponsorship levels with corresponding rewards. For example, you could say, “For donations up to $200, we’ll put your logo in all of our e-mail blasts. For donations up to $500, we’ll put your logo on our official T-shirts.”
    • Businesses may not be interested in donating money, but they may be willing to donate products, such as food, drinks, services, or rental equipment.
  9. Begin promoting your race. Decide how you will get the word out about your race. When in doubt, use as many avenues to promote your race as possible. After all, the more participants, the more money you’ll raise.[8]
    • Some forms of promotion such as radio and newspaper ads cost money. Decide ahead of time if ads are something you’re willing to pay for.
    • Social media is an excellent way to promote your event because it’s easy for people to share the information and pass it on to others.
    • Make sure to register your race with websites that cater to runners. These websites often have lists of races people can sign up for and are very popular.

Organizing Volunteers and Staff

  1. Assemble a core planning committee. Organizing a race for charity is a big undertaking. Don’t assume you can do it alone. Instead, bring together a group of people whom you can rely on. This will be your core group, or committee.[1]
    • There’s no set number of people you’ll need on your committee. However, you may want to start with anywhere from 3 to 7 people, depending on the size of the event you’re planning.
    • When you ask people to join, be clear about what the expectations will be. Will they be asked to raise money themselves? Will they need to attend weekly or monthly meetings? Will they be paid or are they volunteering?
    • Choosing people who you already know and trust can be great, because you know you’ll work well together. However, it can also be great to pull in some people from other circles. This may help your fundraiser reach people you wouldn’t normally reach.
    • Assess the experience or expertise of your staff. Ideally, you want people who have been previously involved in such events.
  2. Assign and delegate roles. Since you initiated the project, you can decide whether you’ll assign the committee members roles, if you’ll all vote on roles, or if people will simply volunteer for the roles they want. There may also be more roles than there are committee members.[8]
    • Make sure that each person has the skills and resources to handle their role. For example, you shouldn’t assign someone to manage your online presence if they aren’t familiar with social media.
    • If some roles must be filled by people not on the committee, decide who will find the people for those roles and who will communicate with them throughout the planning process.
    • Some roles you’ll need to fill include: volunteer coordination, webmaster, treasurer, press liaison, equipment and safety coordinator, and food and drink coordinator.
  3. Meet regularly to check in. Draw up a meeting schedule for committee members. Even if people can’t be there in person, they should be able to call in or to email updates and reports to the group in advance of the meeting.[4]
    • Meetings make great deadlines. For example, you could let everyone know that by next month’s meeting the location scout should have three proposed courses and that the finance committee should have secured at least one corporate sponsor.
    • Keep meetings short and on point. If meetings drag on or don’t seem to be effective, people will be less likely to take them seriously.
  4. Begin recruiting volunteers. This job may be one committee member’s assigned role, but everyone should help at least a little bit. If each person on the committee can recruit two or three people to volunteer, you’ll already have a much larger group than you would otherwise.[6]
    • Try recruiting volunteers through the charity you’re supporting. For example, if you’re raising money for a local animal shelter, see if they will pass your call for volunteers onto their list of volunteers and people who’ve adopted animals.
    • Let volunteers know that there are many ways they can volunteer. For example, even if someone is not available on race day, they can still help stuff goodie bags the week before. Some people may not want to help at all before the race but will be happy to hand out water to runners during the race.
    • Make volunteering fun. If possible, provide refreshments for volunteers and organize an event to thank them and honor their work.

Preparing for Race Day

  1. Track registrants. The easiest way to have people sign up for the race is with online registration. There are many online tools you can use to track and organize participants. Having in-person registration available is important, too.[8]
    • Keep in mind that some people (especially older people) may have a difficult time with online registration. You can make paper registrations available at your local running store, and local gyms, or at the headquarters of the charity you’re benefitting.
    • You can also allow for day-of registration at the race site. However, you’ll need to plan for this by making sure you have enough goodie bags, food, and water to accommodate the extra participants.
    • Registration is likely when you’ll also collect money from people. Most runs charge a fee to participate (between $15 and $75, depending on the scale of the race). This registration money is what will cover your costs and then be donated to charity.
    • Some races ask participants to solicit pledges from their friends or family. For example, a person may get their coworkers to each pledge $1 per mile that they walk or run. This money then gets donated instead of (or in addition to) a registration fee.
  2. Reserve any necessary equipment. A race might look very simple from the outside, but it’s likely that you’ll need to rent equipment for the big day. Almost all races use a professional timekeeping device so that runners can see their finish time.[4]
    • You’ll also likely need to reserve things like portable toilets, pop-up tents (for shade or protection from rain), PA system for music or announcements, etc.
    • Be clear with the rental company if you’re expected to pick up and drop off the equipment or if they deliver it for you.
  3. Order giveaways. Races almost always offer participants some kind of token or souvenir to show that they participated. These may be T-shirts, hats, keychains, tote bags, or frisbees. You may also get coupons donated from local businesses that you can include in goodie bags.[4]
    • Make sure you don’t spend too much money on the give-aways. That can eat into your fundraising!
  4. Organize first aid. You absolutely must have first aid available at a race. This means having certified EMTs or other medical personnel on site and adequate first aid supplies available in case of emergency.[8]
    • Your town might require you to have an ambulance on site as well.
    • Basic first aid supplies for a race should include things like ice, ace bandages, band-aids, antibiotic ointment, epi-pens for bee stings, and emergency inhalers.
  5. Set up the course. You’ll need clearly designated start and finish lines. However, you’ll also need to set things up along the course, as well. Refer to your permit to see when you’re allowed to begin setting up. You may be able to set up some things the night before, or you might need to do it all the morning of the race.[5]
    • Most races include mile markers throughout the race so that runners can track their progress.
    • You’ll need water stations set up throughout the race. Depending on how long the race is, you may also need portable toilets along the course or stations that have sports drinks or gels to help runners refuel.

Cleaning up and Donating

  1. Make sure all waste and litter from the race is removed. This should be done immediately after the race is over. All waste should be bagged up and either thrown away or recycled appropriately. Make sure you have a plan for disposing of the trash once it’s gathered.[9]
    • You may need to rent a dumpster or bring the garbage to the dump yourselves.
    • Try to have a team of volunteers dedicated only to cleanup. It’s likely that those who participated in setting up and running the race will be tired by the time it’s over. It’s great to have a crew with fresh energy to take care of things once the race is over.
    • Always try to leave a space better than you found it. Even if some of the litter wasn’t caused by the race, pick it up. That will keep you in the good graces of the local government, should you want to plan another race next year.
  2. Return all rental equipment. You may need someone to stay with the equipment and wait for it to be picked up. Or, you may need to have a crew of volunteers load it into vehicles and return it. Make sure it’s been cleaned up and is in working order before you return it.[9]
    • For things like audio equipment, make sure all of the cords and extra parts are returned along with the larger pieces. You’ll be charged a hefty sum if any pieces are missing.
    • Make sure to return all equipment on time. You may be charged an extra day or more for returning something even a few hours late.
  3. Pay out any reimbursements or wages. If anyone used their own money to purchase items for the race, make sure they are reimbursed in full. If there were any paid staff members, make sure they receive the payment promised to them.[9]
    • Make sure to collect receipts from anyone you are reimbursing. You should keep these for tax purposes and also so that you can incorporate them into your documentation of the budget.
    • This step should be completed by the treasurer or the treasury committee if there is one.
  4. Donate to the charity of your choice. Now you finally get to write the check. Once all costs have been covered, the rest of the money should be donated to the charity. Call them up and let them know how much you have to donate. Find out how and when would be convenient for them to receive the money.[9]
    • Do not keep any extra money for yourself if that was not explicitly discussed by the organizing committee.
  5. Send thank-yous. It likely took a lot of hands to help make this race happen. Let everyone know how appreciative you are for their efforts and donations. A simple “thank you” card or phone call is usually enough.[10]
    • For larger corporate sponsors you may want to send a plaque or something else that they can display in their place of business.
    • Sending a mass e-mail is also acceptable for participants.
  6. Evaluate the event for future reference. If you think you may organize another event like this one, sit down with the committee and discuss how things went. It’s likely that you all learned a lot and may have ideas for how to do things better next time.[11]
    • You may want to ask for feedback from participants and volunteers. They can let you know how their experience was and what might make it better next time.
    • Even if certain things could use improvement, be proud of yourselves. Organizing your first race is a big accomplishment.


  • Start small. For your first race, choose a realistic financial goal and aim for a reasonable number of participants.
  • Be friendly and compliant with government officials and the police. After all, you need their approval to be able to hold your race.
  • Choose a charity that you have a personal experience with or an organization that needs your help the most.


  • Look at the last few years’ weather on the date you’re choosing. While you can’t predict the weather with certainty, you can aim for a date when you can reasonably expect the weather to be pleasant.
  • Make sure you have any necessary insurance for the race. Mot races also ask runners to sign waivers that release the race organizers from responsibility for any injuries.

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Sources and Citations