Voices from the Third Sector

9 Factors to Determine if a Walk/Run Event is Ideal for Your Nonprofit


Being a race director for the past seven years now, I am often asked how to quickly pull together a 5K run or walk for “fill-in-the-blank” cause. My answer is rather straightforward:  there is no easy or fast way to plan, organize, and execute a successful fundraising event of any kind, especially a race. The reality is – hosting a walk/run event of any size is a lot of hard work! The 5K for which I am responsible attracts 3,000 participants, volunteers, and spectators combined, along with raising $118,000 for the non-profit beneficiary.


The Race For Grace, which began in 2007 as a grassroots effort led by a small group of friends, has developed into a true community event and has grown considerably over the past eight years throughout the Pittsburgh region. I had known Tamara and Brian Ekis, co-founders of the Reflections Of Grace Foundation, for many years prior to Grace’s diagnosis with an inoperable, incurable pediatric brain cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Affecting primarily children, DIPG is the rarest and worst of all pediatric brain tumors and those diagnosed are given a short survival period. The annual Race For Grace is held each spring in loving memory and celebration of Grace, while also raising much needed funds and awareness.


Race For Grace and other Foundation events have operated entirely on the steam of volunteer loyalty and engagement. As the Foundation has no paid staff, it became clear that only with a dedicated volunteer base could our Race not only exist but thrive, despite many other 5Ks in the area. Now in our eighth year, thousands of runners and walkers are currently registering for our April 11 event.


Hosting a run or walk can be an effective option for both fundraising and increasing awareness for your cause. To set yourself and your event up for success, here are nine important factors to consider before launching into this endeavor.


  1. Ask yourself this key question – what makes your race different from the race held last weekend, the race being held next weekend, or even the race being held on the same day across town? Find a way to differentiate your event from the countless others around you. Races often fail to reach their full potential when they blend in with the dozens of similar options happening within a small radius, saturating the same crowd.


  1. Know your audience and keep them at the forefront of the planning process. Who are you trying to attract? (Adults, children, runners, joggers, walkers, speed walkers, teams, individuals, recreational, competitive, etc.) Without participants, the race will have dismal results.


  1. Decide where the money is going and communicate that to registrants, as people genuinely like to know how their contribution helps the greater good of the cause. Be as transparent as you can about how the funds will benefit others.


  1. If you are a new non-profit that has not yet finished the process of obtaining your 501(c)(3) status, consider waiting until you have your EIN number for tax purposes. This will make it easier to obtain donations and sponsorships, thus resulting in more funds raised.


  1. Set a budget and be prepared. Races can be expensive to host. (Less expensive alternatives to consider are: spaghetti dinner, pancake breakfast, bingo, kickball tournament, lemonade stand, bake sale, etc.)


  1. Start planning early and give yourself plenty of time so that you do not feel rushed or that you are cutting corners. Speaking from my own experience, it takes a solid six months to pull off the size and scope of our event.


  1. Consider the time of year and location — depending upon the climate of the area that you will be hosting the event, weather could be a significant element to work around.


  1. If everything is outside, think about your “rain plan”. Will you cancel, reschedule, or continue on rain or shine? Be sure to check with the facility to understand whose final call it is to make – yours or theirs.


  1. Depending upon location, you might be required to obtain a permit or approval from the police, local township authorities, school district, or state (if using state roads). This may require paperwork to be filed, so start the process early.


If you, like me, are holding a fundraiser for a cause that is near and dear to your heart, all the blood, sweat, and tears will be well worth it in the end. Always remember that reason why you race and do not lose sight of the bigger picture.


I often refer to my work with the Foundation as a labor of love for Grace. Seeing 3,000 people come together on our race day is a humbling experience; it makes all of the hard work, long hours, and extra effort seem like the least I can do in the battle against childhood brain cancer. Never underestimate the power of inspiration that you can provide to attendees who may leave your run or walk feeling motivated and changed for the better!

About the Author:  Ashley Metz Leax is a Human Resources Consultant for the Westinghouse Electric Company, Pittsburgh, PA. She serves on the board of the Reflections Of Grace Foundation. Ashley was part of the inaugural Race For Grace in 2007 and has remained committed to the fight against DIPG working as the volunteer race director. A dance instructor at The Elite School of Dance by Elena, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with minors in Psychology and Dance from the Pennsylvania State University.