Planning a successful charity walk/run event

January 2023

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time to start planning your 2023 charity walk/run event! 

To help you get started, we spoke with Fluid event manager Robyn Kennedy. Keep reading for her best advice and insights! 

If you need a hand planning your event or simply want to hand it off to the pros, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today

First things first: Nail down the basic details 

Before you get too carried away thinking about marketing, ticket sales, t-shirt designs and volunteer management, make sure you’ve confirmed the most basic details of your event. These include:

  • Event date and time, including setup and tear down.
  • Event location (ensure you choose a location that’s familiar and accessible to your target audience).
  • The route of your charity walk/run, including the start and finish lines.
  • The organization or cause you’re raising funds for and how exactly funds will be used. 
  • The platform(s) you’ll be using for participant registration and fundraising and how they’ll be managed.

Robyn advises that you confirm these details as early as possible to avoid any surprises or changes of plans down the line. 

“When it comes to your event route, keep in mind that approvals or permits may be required depending on your municipality,” she says. “So before you go any further in the event planning process, make sure you actually have permission to hold a charity walk/run in your desired area!” 

Make sure to check out your local municipality’s online resources to help you get started. In Toronto, for example, the City’s website offers extensive information and advice related to permits, event sites, fees and more. 

Designing your charity walk/run event: Research is your best friend 

You’ve got all the basic details confirmed — great! Now it’s time for the fun part: designing an engaging and impactful charity walk/run event. 

To get the creative juices flowing, Robyn recommends conducting as much research as possible. Here are a few places to start looking for new ideas and best practices:

  • Past charity walk/runs hosted by your organization or community. What worked and what could have been improved?
  • Charity walk/runs hosted by other organizations with similar causes. What did they do that you really liked or that you would have done differently? If you want to take this a step further, sign up for another organization’s charity walk/run so you can experience it from a participant’s perspective. Don’t forget to take notes! 
  • Past event participants. Reach out to people who have participated in or volunteered with your organization’s past charity walk/runs to get their feedback and ideas. 

Robyn also suggests charity walk/run organizers familiarize themselves with industry standards and best practices around fundraising and fundraising events. Charity Village’s Learning Centre is a great place to start. 

Ultimately, all of this research is meant to help you create an event that’s unique and memorable — one that your participants will want to keep coming back to year after year.  

“All charity walk/runs are the same at the heart: they’re centralized around the idea of family, friends and community members coming together in support of a shared cause," says Robyn. “But when it comes to execution, there’s no limit to how unique your event can be.” 

Think from the participants’ perspective

When it gets down to it, every detail of your charity walk/run event should strive to ensure a positive event experience for your guests.

“Make sure you’re always thinking from the participants’ perspective,” says Robyn. “This means every step of their journey, from registration to fundraising to their experience of the event itself.” 

As your event starts to come to life, Robyn suggests regularly taking a step back to consider questions such as:

  • How easy is it for participants to navigate registration and fundraising?
  • How will this decision impact participants’ experiences on event day?
  • How can we ensure the experience of participating in this event is as smooth and straightforward as possible?

“As an event planner or manager, your most important job is to ensure the participant experience is always top notch, every step of the way,” says Robyn. 

Create a positive and meaningful volunteer experience 

As you focus on creating the best possible event experience for your participants, don’t forget about your volunteers!

“Keep in mind that volunteers are being really generous with their time,” says Robyn. “It’s critical to make sure you’re clear on what their jobs will be before they arrive on site and how you’ll communicate those jobs to them.” 

When it comes to volunteer management, Robyn says there are two scenarios that every event planner should strive to avoid: too many volunteers doing absolutely nothing, or too much work and not enough volunteers. 

To avoid either of these situations and ensure you’re making the most of your volunteers’ time, Robyn says it’s imperative to understand your event-day needs and plan your volunteer workforce around those needs.

“Put effort into helping volunteers feel fully prepared to tackle their assigned jobs,” she says.
“This might include hosting pre-event training sessions and communicating regularly in advance of the event. And don’t forget to have a solid plan for on-site volunteer management so they feel well-supported on event day.”

Perhaps most importantly of all, take the time to say thanks. 

“Recognizing volunteers is so crucial,” says Robyn. “That could mean presenting them with a special gift, thanking them from the stage or recognizing them in your event materials. Volunteers are so often the backbone of a charity walk/run, so we want them to feel important and valued.” 

Bringing your cause to life 

We’ve talked about how to get started planning your charity walk/run, participant experience and volunteer management. But let’s not forget the most important part of your event: the cause!

When you’re planning a charity walk/run, it’s easy to get caught up in logistics, routes, approvals and all the other details that go into creating a successful event. But through it all, it’s critical to make sure you’re communicating about your cause in a clear, compelling and meaningful way. 

“It’s so important that participants feel connected to the cause and understand the impact they’re creating by being there,” says Robyn. “Not only so they can have a meaningful experience, but so that they’ll stay engaged with your cause over the long-term.” 

There are many different ways you can ensure regular and consistent messaging about your cause before, during and after your event. Here are just a few of Robyn’s top suggestions: 

  • As part of your pre-event communication strategy, send emails to participants that are exclusively focused on highlighting your cause.
  • On event day, invite people who have benefitted from your cause to speak about their experiences either at the beginning or end of the event.
  • Create signage along the walk/run route highlighting your cause.
  • Host fun and engaging activations before and after the event that bring your cause to life, such as a trivia game.

Watch out for these common pitfalls!

We’ve covered all the basics to help you get started planning your charity walk/run event. But we’ve also got a few words of warning! 

As you begin designing your event, Robyn advises keeping these common pitfalls in mind:

  • Not getting to know the brand, audience or community your event is representing. “Charity walks are so community focused, so you really want to make sure you understand why people would want to participate and what they’d expect or hope to see,” says Robyn. 
  • Not paying attention to accessibility needs. Conduct an accessibility audit to ensure your event is as inclusive as possible. 
  • Not keeping a robust workback of all your deadlines and deliverables. “Failing to keep a workback of every detail — including vendors, registration, volunteers, logistics and so on — is a sure-fire way to guarantee things will be really chaotic on event day,” Robyn warns. 
  • Not being aware of all the various permits that may be required to create an event in an outdoor space where event infrastructure doesn’t already exist. “Make sure you’re working closely with your city or municipality to understand what permits are needed and to ensure you’re all on the same page,” she advises. 

Ready to get started planning your event? You got this!

We’ll be cheering you on as you get started planning your charity walk/run event! 

Remember: if you need us, we’re here. Fluid is the only full-service event production company in North America working exclusively with non-profits — meaning we’ve been around the block when it comes to charity walk/run events. So don’t hesitate to get in touch!