Running a Successful 5K Fundraiser: The Complete Guide

Running a Successful 5K Fundraiser: The Complete Guide

Events are a core part of most nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups’ fundraising strategies. Bringing your supporters together is an opportunity to create a visibility event that will bring attention to and raise additional revenue for your cause, and it’s also a chance to let your supporters interact with each other, have fun, and even form a community around your cause.

Different events have different audiences, but 5K fundraisers have become notable for achieving widespread success in a variety of communities. While not everyone enjoys a formal gala or serious lecture and presentation series, most of us recognize the need for exercise or are happy to support others who do. Plus, 5K fundraisers tend to have relatively low investment costs while providing participants with a high level of personal satisfaction. 

Of course, your organization can’t plan a 5K overnight. To help you get started planning and positioning your event for success, this complete guide will cover:

Before planning your 5K, you should understand the natural strengths of this type of event and how you can leverage them to earn revenue for your organization. Let’s get started with a basic overview of how a 5K can help fundraise for your cause.

Transform your 5K fundraiser with Grassroots Unwired's 4EventDay App. Learn more.

How Do 5K Fundraisers Earn Revenue?
How Do 5K Fundraisers Earn Revenue?

5K fundraisers bring your community together to enjoy a run or walk or support their friends and family who are doing so.  

Your 5K can generate revenue through a variety of methods, including the following: 

  • Charge a participation fee. When your participants register for your event, charge a small fee. These costs will vary depending on your organization, the size of your event, and your target audience. For example, some community 5Ks charge as little as $15 to participate while others have fees up to $50. 
  • Sell merchandise and concessions. Set up stands to sell a variety of branded products as well as concessions. While you can sell a range of merchandise, most organizations prefer to sell branded products that fit the theme of a 5K, such as hats, t-shirts, water bottles, frisbees, and other athletic goods. You can also sell water bottles, cold drinks, and snacks throughout your event to fuel participants and keep spectators entertained. 
  • Encourage participants and spectators to donate. In addition to providing your community with a fun activity, 5Ks are an opportunity to spread awareness about your cause. During your event, ask attendees to consider donating to your cause.
  • Have participants engage their social networks. During the event, have your participants post messages on social media, letting their followers know about the event and the cause and encouraging them to make donations too. 

Your organization can choose to use any or all of these methods. When choosing how to fundraise, take your audience and fundraising goals into consideration. For example, a community 5K aimed at families will likely have lower sign-up costs but may compensate by expanding their merchandise offerings

11 steps for running a 5K fundraiser
11 Steps for Running a 5K Fundraiser 

5Ks, like all fundraising events, require planning to achieve their full potential. To ensure your planning team accomplishes everything it needs to, here are ten steps to follow for running your 5K:

1. Set a goal for your event.

1. Set a goal for your event

Like all fundraising events, your organization should plan your 5K with a goal in mind. This will allow you to assess your event after the fact and determine if it was successful. When choosing your goal, ensure that it follows the SMART method:

When planning your 5K ensure that you follow the SMART strategy for setting goals.

  • Specific. Goals like “earn revenue” and “attract more supporters” are rarely helpful as they are too vague to help your organization account for meaningful progress. By contrast, a goal for your 5K such as “Earn at least $1,500 and convert 20% of attendees not previously associated with your organization into supporters” has clear fundraising targets. 
  • Measurable. Choose a goal that your organization can easily quantify. Qualitative data such as whether or not your participants enjoyed themselves are important to take note of, but they can’t be measured in the same way as metrics such as the number of participants, your return on investment, and the number of successful follow-up conversations. 
  • Attainable. It’s good to push yourself and aim high, but ensure that your goal is still within your organization’s reach. Impossible goals will only discourage your staff, and if you fall short of all of your goals, it can be difficult to make meaningful, targeted improvements for next time. 
  • Relevant. Your goals should relate to your organization’s overall strategy. For example, a newer organization might primarily be interested in establishing themselves in their community. This organization might thus prioritize the number of guests above all else, while more established groups may look more closely at metrics such as participant retention and sponsorship funding. 
  • Timely. All fundraising efforts should have a set timeframe, which means setting a deadline for when you want to achieve your goal. For a fundraising event like a 5K, there will be a definitive end, but you should still set a timeframe for your follow-up efforts and their long-term return on your investment. 

By taking this approach, your team will be able to approach your 5K planning process with a sense of scale, urgency, and direction. For example, a team with a SMART goal of “Increase participant sign-ups by 15% from last year to attract new supporters in the lead up to next month’s campaign” will enter the planning phase of their 5K focused on their most important metric, attendance, and know definitively when they achieved their objective. 

2. Assemble a team and gather resources.

2. Assemble a team and gather resources

Planning and hosting a 5K fundraiser isn’t a one-person job. Your team will vary depending on your organization and the size of your event, but most organizations hosting a 5K will need to assemble an event planning team that includes the following roles:

  • Event manager. The event manager is responsible for overseeing each step of the event planning process. They ensure that everyone is cohesively working towards the same goal and keeps the team organized and on schedule. 
  • Marketing team members. To get the word out about your 5K, you’ll need someone to create and distribute marketing materials. For smaller organizations, the marketing team may also be responsible for researching sponsors and pitching your 5K to them.
  • Event coordinators. At the event, you’ll need at least a few team members to manage and supervise your 5K. These team members will be responsible for ensuring your event runs smoothly from initial setup to cleaning up your venue at the event’s end. 
  • Volunteers. Volunteers handle a variety of tasks on your event day such as checking in participants, tracking participants’ times, running concession stands, and handling any other responsibilities your event coordinators might need help with. 

Additionally, your team will also need the right resources. To start, you will want to connect with a fundraising software such as Classy, DonorDrive, and Luminate Online. Once you have a fundraising software in place, bring that software to the day-of the event with event management software solutions. For your 5K, ensure your software can work wirelessly and even without internet if you are hosting your event in a remote location. 

3. Solidify the details.

3. Solidify the details

Once your goal is established and your team is assembled, begin refining the details about how your 5K fundraiser will be hosted. While some details may change as your planning progresses and various challenges and opportunities arise, you should have answers to the following questions:

  • Who is my core audience? Determine both your audience and your 5K fundraiser’s theme. These events can be aimed at families, more serious athletes, older and retired individuals, and other groups depending on the theme you choose. 
  • Where is my 5K fundraiser going to be hosted? Choose a location that makes sense based on your audience and theme. For example, a school hosting a 5K might be content with having students run laps around a track, while an organization with a higher budget may be able to rent out a popular running destination, such as a lake or well-maintained nature trail. 
  • How will I handle event activities? As mentioned, you’ll need to plan out how your 5K will earn revenue. In addition, decide how you will handle essential elements of a 5K, such as how you will time runners and how long your event will last. 

Ensure you know the answers to all of these questions before promoting your event to participants and sponsors. Additionally, this information will help you recruit volunteers as you’ll be able to describe their exact responsibilities more clearly. 

4. Gather sponsors.

4. Gather sponsors

5Ks are an opportunity to not only connect with your supporters, but local businesses in your area, as well. Sponsorships can be mutually beneficial, earning necessary support while boosting each sponsor’s reputation for helping a good cause. 

Sponsors can offer support in a variety of ways, including:

  • Monetary donations. Sponsors can help make your 5K a success by contributing financially. In exchange, your sponsors will likely ask your nonprofit to promote their involvement. This can include featuring their logo on banners at your event or making blog and social media posts thanking them. 
  • In-kind donations. Some organizations may be able to offer supplies for either your event or your overall mission. For example, you may be able to get equipment to set up your venue such as tents and tables donated or rented out at a reduced rate. 
  • Employee engagement opportunities. Employees like seeing the businesses they work for give back to the community, and they often appreciate the opportunity to join those efforts. If a business is open to it, invite their employees to sign up as either participants or volunteers. 

Be sure to research your sponsors before approaching them. Choose businesses that have shown an interest in sponsoring charitable causes. Some corporations have philanthropic missions, and if it aligns with your nonprofit’s, you will likely have an easier time making your case for support. 

5. Launch your marketing campaign.

5. Launch your marketing campaign

Effective marketing for your 5K fundraiser will help get the word out about your event and attract attention to your organization’s overall mission at the same time. Here are a few effective marketing strategies that your team should consider as you start brainstorming ideas:

  • Multi-channel marketing. Only spreading the word about your event on one platform can limit your potential audience. Take a multi-channel approach by leveraging a variety of platforms such as social media, email, direct mail, and flyers in public locations.
  • Peer-to-peer campaign. 5Ks can be run alongside peer-to-peer campaigns to maximize your marketing potential. Have your volunteers fundraise and promote your event on behalf of your nonprofit to attract new supporters from their personal networks. 
  • Leveraging your sponsors. Your sponsors will want to publicize their connection to your nonprofit to their customers. This means these businesses can also be an effective marketing channel in your local community. Reach out to your sponsors about displaying flyers, posting online about your event, and promoting it to their employees. 

During your planning phase, ensure that your marketing team has enough time to launch a widespread marketing campaign to reach your target audiences. Plus, doing so will give you participants time to clear their calendars far in advance. 

Create marketing materials to promote your 5K fundraiser.

6. Create compelling marketing materials

A major part of marketing your 5K fundraiser is creating the materials you’ll use to spread the word to your community. As part of your strategy, spend time developing marketing collateral early on that communicates the must-know details for people to get involved.

Overall, the materials you design should be eye-catching and match the channels you’ve chosen to promote your campaign.

Whether you’re leaning into digital or direct marketing, consider making fundraising collateral such as:

  • Campaign flyers. Perfect for digital and in-person marketing, flyers are a low-cost way to promote your event. While traditionally posted around communities, you can pull them into the digital world by emailing them to supporters or posting them on social media. Use eye-catching graphics and typography to communicate what your fundraiser is, the purpose behind it, and details like the date and entry price.
  • Social media graphics. Especially if you’re recruiting peer-to-peer fundraisers, make sure they’re equipped with graphics they can share online. This might be digital flyers, graphics that communicate campaign updates, infographics that communicate your impact, or some other promo graphics.
  • A campaign page. This is where you’ll drive individuals to sign up to participate in your fundraiser. While we’ll cover how functionality tips in the next section, you’ll also want to make sure it has a strong design that invites users to complete the process. That means using well-placed CTAs, minimizing the number of images on the page, and making sure your form flows well and prioritizes the user experience.

Thinking through your marketing strategy ahead of time will make it easier to create the right marketing materials to supplement your plans. After perfecting the design of your marketing materials, you can push forward with promoting your 5K fundraiser!

6. Make registering easy.

7. Make registering easy

Marketing can be time-consuming and resource intensive. With all the work attracting participants to your registration page, ensure that what they find will make the process easy instead of being another hurdle. You can streamline your registration process by:

  • Keeping your form short and to the point. Long registration forms can result in page abandonment, which means lost attendees. Avoid this by keeping your form straightforward with only necessary questions relevant to your 5K. 
  • Ensuring your payment processing is secure. Invest in a secure payment processor to keep your participants’ data safe. You can also reassure guests about sharing their sensitive financial information by branding your payment form if it opens in a new window or by embedding the payment form straight into your registration page. 
  • Using waivers that are written in plain language. For a physically-intensive activity like a 5K fundraiser, it may be necessary to have participants sign release forms. Ensure that these forms address any potential risk in understandable, plain language so your participants can provide their informed consent. 

You can further optimize your registration process to promote your organization as well. For example, after participants complete their registration, you can prompt them to consider donating to your cause, subscribing to your newsletter, or even just exploring other content on your website. 

7. Recruit volunteers.

8. Recruit volunteers

Ensure you have a team of well-trained volunteers ready to help run your event. When recruiting volunteers, take into account both what skills you’ll need and how many volunteers you’ll need overall. You can use your participant registrations to help pin down the exact scale of your event, which can help your planners determine how many volunteers they will need. 

You can effectively recruit volunteers by creating recruitment postings with an engaging message. Clearly list out the expected responsibilities and expectations in your posting, as well as what your volunteers can gain from the experience. 

Volunteers help out nonprofits for all kinds of reasons, such as giving back to a good cause, improving their skills, socializing with members of their community, or fulfilling requirements for school, work, or a club. Take these reasons into account as you craft your recruitment appeals to attract as many interested volunteers as possible. 

8. Set up your event space.

9. Set up your event space

On the day of your event, your team will need to arrive early at your venue to set up registration tables, places for participants to store their belongings, and concession stands. You should also be sure to test out any software you intend to use to ensure it’s up and running before your participants arrive. 

Some software solutions can make setting up event spaces easier. For example, wireless software and programs that can function without the internet may be necessary for 5K fundraisers hosted outside or in remote locations. You can also use technology to limit the need for creating a dedicated registration space. 

Registration lines will need significant space, and you’ll have to schedule time at the beginning of your event to help participants check in before the 5K’s start. However, you can get around this by using a software platform like Grassroots Unwired’s 4EventDay App, which allows your volunteers to scan tickets and check in guests from their phones. This allows you to eliminate lines, reduce waiting times, and create a more open event space. 

9. Host your event.

10. Host your event

After all of your planning, it’s finally time to host your 5K fundraiser! Your event coordinators and volunteers will be kept busy checking in participants, answering their questions, and assisting them throughout your event as needed. Ensure your team members have the tools and strategies they need to stay in touch with your participants throughout the entire event in case they ever need help. 

During your event, consider how you can continue generating support for your cause. In addition to selling concessions and merchandise, you can earn more support by educating interested spectators about your cause and encouraging them to consider donating. 

10. Follow up afterwards.

11. Follow up afterwards

Between sending out thank-you emails and sharing final fundraising totals, your event team’s work isn’t complete until you’ve followed up with all of your supporters. There are several groups you’ll need to create unique follow-up messages for, including:

  • Participants. After your event, send out personalized emails thanking each participant for their attendance. These emails should explain what their support means to your organization. You can accomplish this by sharing how much your fundraiser earned and what impact it will have on your mission, attaching fun photos from your 5K, and congratulating them on a race well run. 
  • Sponsors. All of your sponsors should receive unique follow-up messages to thank them for their support, confirm any actions your nonprofit agreed to take as part of your partnership, and emphasize the impact they made on your event. This follow-up can be reiterated in email for reference but should first be conducted over the phone or in-person if possible. 
  • Volunteers. Volunteers are a key part of a successful fundraising event, so make sure they aren’t forgotten in your follow-up. Send out personalized messages thanking them for their help and consider going the extra mile by hosting a volunteer appreciation event. If you have leftover merchandise from your event, consider gifting branded items such as t-shirts, buttons, keychains, and water bottles to your hardworking volunteers. 

The follow-up process is an opportunity to secure the relationships that your event worked to build. Focus on thanking your various supporters for their time and contributions. 

4 Tips for a Successful 5K Fundraiser
4 Tips for a Successful 5K Fundraiser

In addition to the steps outlined above, there are a few extra tips and tricks your organization can make use to improve your 5K fundraiser. Here’s how you can create a better experience for your participants and set your organization up to earn additional revenue.

1. Invest in the right software.

The right software can transform your event for the better, allowing you to stay organized and be more efficient by going paperless. Software designed specifically for 5Ks like Grassroots Unwired’s 4EventDay App has a leg up on generic event management tools. This software comes equipped with unique benefits such as:

With Grassroots Unwired's 4EventDay App, your 5K fundraiser will enjoy a variety of benefits.

  • Check-in and merchandise selling tools. 
  • Offline functionality. 
  • Real-time reporting. 
  • Customization features to match the app to your brand. 
  • Mobile barcode scanning. 

Plus, when you integrate your software with your CRM, data from your event will be automatically uploaded to your donor database as participants check in. This allows you to track your donors in real time, keeping your event team updated and providing information you can use later for continued supporter stewardship. 

2. Promote your 5K fundraiser with paid advertising.

While once out of the question, paid advertising is becoming an increasingly popular and affordable way to promote nonprofit events and other fundraising initiatives. That’s all thanks to resources like the Google Ad Grant program.

Through this program, Google enables nonprofits to promote their missions and fundraising initiatives using its paid advertising platform for free. That makes it the perfect opportunity to amplify your 5K fundraiser landing page and boost registrations.

As explained in Getting Attention’s Google Ad Grants guide, eligible organizations can receive up to $10,000 in free advertising credits every month. These credits can be spent to bid on different keywords and promote specific webpages (like your 5K fundraiser page) for those keywords.

When crafting your ads, be sure to do the following to increase visibility for your race:

  • Set your 5K event page as your advertisement’s landing page.
  • Highlight the event’s details (e.g., date and time) within your ad and on your landing page.
  • Include a call to action that persuades users to register for your race.
  • Use targeting to ensure individuals near your event’s location see your ad.
  • Choose keywords related to running events and charitable causes, like “running for charity,” “run for cancer research,” or “5K races near me.”

Paid advertising can do a lot for boosting registrations, whether you want to connect with new supporters or engage existing ones. The success of your ads relies on your ability to write persuasively and locate the right keywords your prospective runners are searching on Google. If you’re running low on time, a Google Grants agency can step in to eliminate the learning curve. They’ll help you develop ads that target and inspire users to register for your 5K or any other fundraiser.

3. Launch a peer-to-peer campaign. 

Leading up to your 5K fundraiser, consider launching a peer-to-peer campaign. Peer-to-peer campaigns empower your supporters to fundraise on your behalf, dramatically expanding your organization’s reach. 

Here are a few benefits these campaigns can add to your event:

  • Attract more participants. Through a peer-to-peer campaign, your supporters can bring in their own personal networks who may be unaware of your event. This means you can attract more participants than if you stick only to your usual marketing channels.
  • Earn more donations. Peer-to-peer campaigns work because your supporters already have relationships with the potential donors they approach. These donors will be more inclined to give because they’re making a contribution to a friend or family member rather than an organization they may be unfamiliar with. 
  • Tap into corporate philanthropy. Many companies offer to match the donations their employees raise on behalf of charitable causes. Make sure your peer-to-peer fundraisers know this!
  • Reduce event lines. The right peer-to-peer software will also be helpful at your event, allowing your volunteers to check in their guests by using their phones to scan tickets. Plus, volunteers can collect donations or sell merchandise through their peer-to-peer app as well, allowing them to continue fundraising on your behalf all throughout your 5K. 

Some 5K fundraisers encourage their participants to join their peer-to-peer campaign. These volunteers then ask their friends and family members to attend and contribute to your event specifically to support their efforts in the 5K. 

4. Make use of matching gifts and volunteer grants.

Nonprofits can earn extra revenue after their 5K fundraiser through two types of corporate philanthropy: volunteer grants and matching gifts.

Volunteer grants are contributions corporations make when their employees donate their time to a charitable cause like your nonprofit. Similarly, matching gifts are contributions companies make when their employees donate their money to charitable organizations. Essentially, these donations are free money for your organization, so there is no reason not to claim them.

For volunteer grants, help your volunteers research their eligibility and fill out any forms that may be required. Employer guidelines will vary, but most will need your volunteers to submit their hours, so be sure to record when volunteers arrive and leave your event.

For matching gifts, make the research process as simple as possible. Each time someone donates using your online donation page, allow them to research their eligibility for their employers’ programs with an employer search tool. Better yet, choose a matching gift autosubmission tool that will automatically submit their requests to their employers for them if they prefer. No forms to fill out means more people will complete the process!

Wrap Up

Planning a successful 5K fundraiser requires a dedicated team, the right strategies, and powerful event software to support your efforts. By putting in this effort, your organization can look forward to a fun, engaging event that brings your supporters together and raises important funds for your mission. 

Follow the steps discussed in this guide to plan your event, and invest the time into researching the best software solutions for your event. Doing so will set your 5K up for success, and ensure it is a better experience for your team and your participants. 

To learn more about the tools and strategies your nonprofit or advocacy group can use to reach more supporters and boost your outreach efforts, check out these resources:

Ready to eliminate lines and launch a more successful 5K Fundraiser? Discover how Grassroots Unwired's 4EventDay App can help.

3 Comments so far

4 Key Benefits of Using Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Software – Heller ConsultingPosted on8:55 am - Aug 10, 2022

[…] or other races. Grassroots Unwired’s guide to successful 5K fundraisers encourages including peer-to-peer fundraising as a monetization strategy for races, in addition to […]

Brandi PowellPosted on9:44 am - Dec 2, 2022

This information was so helpful for me!

GinnaPosted on2:44 pm - Mar 2, 2023

This information was quite helpful for me to decide if I want to host a 5k run fur my company.

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