From the starting whistle to the finish line, this guide will give you the tools you need to successfully start planning a 5K fundraiser.
How to plan a 5K: Find a charity race coordinator.
You don’t need us to tell you that resources in the nonprofit sector can be pretty tight and that means many roles are often filled by volunteers. That means the next time your planning a 5K charity run fundraiser, it’d be helpful to designate someone to be your charity race coordinator. The ideal race coordinator will be familiar with local running routes and have contacts in the local government to help with step two: permits. However, any help is better than doing it all yourself, so if your volunteers are all doing this for the first time, ChatGPT can be surprisingly helpful in figuring out how to organize a charity walk or run.
How to plan a 5K: Choose a route and verify it with the municipality.
Choosing a route for your charity run can be a bit tricky. Keep in mind that you’ll probably have walkers and runners of all ages and activity levels and this means finding a route that is challenging for your more athletic supporters, but not too difficult (uneven terrain, steep inclines, direct sun, etc) for everyone else. You will also need to coordinate with local officials, such as government and police, to get your route(s) approved, apply for any park permits, food and drink licenses, and to ensure that the day of your charity run is fun and safe. Every municipality has their own set of laws, rules and regulations, so ask ChatGPT or visit your local municipality’s website for guidance.
How to plan a 5K: Find a sponsor or two.
As soon as you start to organize a charity run, start thinking about sponsors. Corporate or government sponsors not only help out with financial contributions, but they can help alleviate some of the grunt work that comes with promoting the event and finding volunteers. When you have a corporate sponsor, their network becomes your network. Associating the name of your nonprofit with a well known or well liked local company can bring in new donors who m might not have heard of your nonprofit before.
There’s another type of sponsor out there too: local professional or semi-professional athletes. They can help spread the word, attract a crowd and up the credibility of your charity run. And, again, thanks to the power of social media, their network becomes your network!
How to plan a 5K: Choose a theme.
Colour run fundraisers, mud runs, glow races (held at night), snow globe runs in the winter, beer runs—there are more than a couple ways to organize a 5K for charity. Get creative, think of an idea that works with your cause, donor base, location and goals. The more creative it is, the easier it is to sell.
Themed charity fun runs are all about providing an outlet for your participants while they help raise money for your cause. So, try to choose a theme that aligns with your mission and will get participants coming back year after year.
How to plan a 5K: How to organize volunteers.
Finding, recruiting and training volunteers is no easy task. So start early. To ensure your charity run runs smoothly, make sure you’ve got all the help you need leading up to the 5k fundraiser and, most importantly, enough volunteers on race day. The number of volunteers you’ll need will depend on the size of your fundraising event.
Here are a few tasks that will need volunteers during your event: (The list gets pretty long, pretty fast.)
- Set-up and take-down of the event area.
- Set-up and take-down of the route.
- Help for the sponsors.
- Garbage patrol.
- Registration and sign-in.
- Monitors and water people during the race.
- Officials to record times at the finish line.
- First aid area/volunteers. (Often, first aid professional will need to be compensated.)
- Food. (BBQ? Potluck organization? Food trucks? Ticket sales?)
- Information booth. (Both for the charity run and your nonprofit.)
- Raffle ticket sales. Silent auction.
- Finalist presentation.
- Toilet area volunteers.
- Managing social media.
How to plan a 5K: Online fundraising tools can help.
Okay, shameless plug time. The internet has made a lot of things easier, including organizing a charity run. Online fundraising platforms like Zeffy can be used to create free online registration and peer-to-peer fundraising forms to make it easy for participants to sign up for the your charity 5k run and raise money for your nonprofit organization.
There are a lot of platforms out there, like Eventbrite for nonprofits or Givebutter, but they all tend to pass the transaction fees from the payment partner onto the nonprofit. So, when it comes to choosing between Zeffy vs Eventbrite, we are biased but Zeffy also has 100% free event ticketing and peer-to-peer fundraising tools and we cover the cost of your transactions fees too.
No really, Zeffy is completely free for nonprofits so you get every dollar your donors pledge. Zero platform fees. Zero monthly fees. Zero credit card fees.
Okay, enough about us. Back to your event.
How to plan a 5K: Promote your 5k run for charity.
Getting the word out there about your 5k fundraiser is an easily overlooked, but important, step. Of course, if your budget allows, we recommend spreading the word through local advertising such as newspapers, magazines, and radio. (Most media companies even have special rates for nonprofits or might even become a sponsor of your event.)
If you’re not rolling in loose change, go wild and spread the word by:
- Hanging posters around town.
- Asking schools to add your event to their morning announcements.
- Run a series of micro events around town to raise awareness and help donors train at the same time.
- Organize a stunt with your semi-professional or professional athlete or sponsor.
- Negotiate promotions and voluntary contributions with local businesses.
- Use social media to it’s full potential. Reach out to local running groups and post on their pages, shamelessly plug your event in as many posts on as many platforms as you can. Use your sponsors followers to your advantage. Share running and walking tips. Share those promotions you negotiated with local business.
All of this will ensure that running and walking enthusiasts in your area will find out about your event and (fingers crossed) sign up to support your cause.
How to plan a 5K: Order supplies early.
Race day can get pretty hectic, so it’s smart to start planning out your supply needs in advance. Once you know approximately how many participants will be attending your event, you’ll have a good idea of how much food, water, merchandise, first aid kits, etc. you’re going to need.
Keep in mind that each participant will need access to water (you can provide reusable water bottles or compostable cups that they can have filled along the race route) and food such as packaged snacks, fruits, or a post-race BBQ. Participants and their supporters will also likely buy t-shirts, hats, socks, water bottle, sweatshirts, etc. to support your cause. So, make sure there’s enough to go around.
You can even coordinate with your sponsors to help cover some of the upfront costs.
How to plan a 5K: Prepare and send out charity race kits early.
Each participant in your 5K charity run/walk should receive a race kit, ideally a few days before the fundraising event. What’s inside the kit can vary, but typically it includes a route map, numbered race bib, timing chip, and branded t-shirt. You can also include promotional items from your sponsors, snacks for race day, information on your nonprofit, food or drink tickets—anything that will help make your charity run stand out.
Volunteers will come in handy here to. They can help distribute race kits at a local businesses and keep track of the participants who have picked up their kits and those that haven’t. Zeffy’s fundraising platform can help keep track of this information as well.
How to plan a 5K: How to organize volunteers on race day.
As race day approaches, each of your volunteers should be assigned a clear role to play on the day of the 5K charity run. You will need volunteers to check participants in as they enter, to pass out food and water along the route, to manage timing at the finish line, to help set-up and take-down the site, etc.
If your budget allows, you may want to consider hiring a race day timing service to help outsource race timing and free up volunteers for other positions. (Yes, this is a business that exists.)
It’s probably a good idea to let your volunteers know what they’ll be doing on race day and provide them with any information, equipment, etc. that they’ll need in advance so they can study up. If your volunteers know what’s what on race day, everything will run a lot smoother.