Organizing a Swimathon Fundraiser: The Complete Guide

Organizing a Swimathon Fundraiser: The Complete Guide

For many nonprofits and advocacy groups, events are a core component of your fundraising strategy. Fundraising events bring the community together, spread awareness about your cause, and raise money for your organization all at the same time. Some of the most popular fundraising events ask participants to raise money through physical activity—for example, you’ve probably heard of charity walkathons and 5K race events.

But your fundraising events don’t have to be confined to dry land! A swimathon fundraiser will also provide all of the benefits of an athletic event fundraiser. Plus, it will stand out from the walking and running fundraising events that other organizations will likely host, allowing you to attract participants and spread the word about your cause.

In this guide, we’ll walk through all you need to know to run a swimathon fundraiser, including:

Like any fundraising event, a swimathon will only be successful if it’s planned well. Use the tips in this guide to get started, and make sure you have the right team and tools to help you make the most of your fundraiser. Let’s dive in!

How does a swimathon fundraiser work?

How Do Swimathons Work?

A swimathon fundraiser is a type of a-thon style event, along with walkathons, bikeathons, danceathons, bowlathons, readathons, and nearly any other activity a participant could do for a long period of time. Doing one activity for as long as possible is one of the two key components of an a-thon style event fundraiser, and the other is peer-to-peer fundraising.

When a participant registers for an a-thon style event, they’ll create an individual page through your organization’s peer-to-peer fundraising software. Then, they’ll share that page with their friends and family, who will pledge to donate certain amounts of money corresponding to their loved one’s participation in the event.

For a swimathon, supporters might pledge donations based on:

  • The number of laps a participant swims (for instance, $1 per length of the pool)
  • The distance a participant swims ($1 per 50 meters)
  • The amount of time a participant spends swimming ($5 for every 15 minutes in the water)

After the swimathon, supporters will turn these pledges into real contributions to your organization. In addition to bringing in revenue, the event itself will bring the community together, and the peer-to-peer component will expand your organization’s reach far beyond the swimmers who participate.

Follow these 9 steps to plan and run a swimathon fundraiser.

9 Steps to a Successful Swimathon Fundraiser

Between the peer-to-peer fundraiser and the event itself, swimathons have a lot of moving parts to keep track of . However, breaking the planning process down into smaller tasks will make it much easier.

Let’s look at each of the nine key steps for a successful swimathon in detail:

Use this checklist as you plan a swimathon fundraiser.

1. Set a Fundraising Goal

The first thing you’ll want to do when you start any fundraiser, especially a complex event like a swimathon, is set a goal. Going into the swimathon with a goal in mind will allow you to focus your efforts before, during, and after the event.

A good fundraising goal will follow the SMART model, meaning that it is:

Follow the SMART model when setting a fundraising goal for your swimathon.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

For example, your organization might set a SMART goal to “register 50 participants and raise at least $1,500 for our cause by the end of the swimathon event.” This fundraising goal has two specific, measurable outcomes, as well as a defined time frame.

To determine relevance, consider how your swimathon can benefit your organization as a whole. Naturally, the event will be part of your fundraising strategy, but you’ll also want to think about how you’ll attract new supporters and further your cause. If your organization’s mission relates to health or the environment, you could draw a connection between your cause and the benefits of exercise or the need to protect aquatic life during your swimathon. But if your cause doesn’t directly relate to swimming, you’ll still want to reiterate your cause as you market and run the event.

Lastly, to decide whether your fundraising goal is attainable, examine data from past event fundraisers, though there will always be a level of uncertainty when you’re running an event for the first time. Fortunately, swimathons make great annual fundraisers. Once you have one swimming fundraiser under your belt, you can use the data you collected to inform your fundraising goal for next year’s event.

2. Assemble Your Event Team

A swimathon takes a team to put together, especially if it’s your first time hosting one. Communicate clearly with your staff to ensure everyone knows who is responsible for what aspects of planning, coordinating, and marketing the event.

In addition to your organization’s staff members, a swimathon will require a number of volunteers to help with setup, participant check-in, time tracking, and any other responsibilities that may need to be taken care of. You’ll also need at least a few volunteers who have lifeguard certifications and first aid experience to keep participants safe while they swim, so make sure to create a separate volunteer posting on your website specifically asking for certified lifeguards.

3. Work out the Event Logistics

Once you have your event team organized, you’ll need to solidify your swimathon’s logistics. This step includes finalizing the:

  • Venue: Many organizations hold their swimathons at community pools. It’s also possible to host open water swimathons, although those are more challenging to secure space for and have more safety considerations. Contact the rec center or facility management well in advance to ensure they can accommodate your event.
  • Date and time: Make sure to confirm these details with the venue before sharing them with participants. If you hold the event outdoors, have an inclement weather plan in place.
  • Supplies: Make a list of everything you need, such as tables and chairs for volunteers, tents if you’ll be outdoors, and items for participants and spectators like snacks, water bottles, and sunscreen. Review your event budget to determine how you’ll procure each item.

Additionally, you’ll want to choose your event management software at this stage. This solution should include streamlined registration capabilities, data tracking, and offline functionality if you’ll be holding the event in an area with spotty internet connectivity.

4. Market Your Fundraiser

Marketing is essential for a successful fundraising event. To expand your reach to as many potential participants as possible, promote your swimathon using multiple marketing channels, such as:

  • Your organization’s website. Your website is your supporters’ first stop for learning more about your activities and upcoming events. Create an event page for your swimathon and encourage website visitors to check it out by including call-to-action buttons linking to it on your home page. On the event page itself, provide details about how your swimathon will support your cause, logistic details about when and where the event will take place, and a link to register. 
  • Email marketing. Ensure your dedicated supporters know about your swimathon by emailing about it. Far in advance, alert supporters about your swimathon and ask them to save the date in your newsletter. Then, send emails specifically about the swimathon in the weeks leading up to it for any supporter who skimmed over earlier mentions of it. 
  • Social media. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have large audiences and cost relatively little to host a marketing campaign on. Facebook in particular can be useful for promoting community events to local residents. Join groups related to your town to connect with your community and share details about your event.
  • Direct mail. Personally invite supporters to your swimathon with invitations in the mail. While your impulse may be to focus on online channels only, direct mail has an average ROI of 43%, making it one of the most responsive communication channels for many marketers.  
  • Print or digital flyers. Create branded flyers that provide the details of your event, explain its importance, and have eye-catching visuals. Choose colors that will stand out at a distance and reflect your organization’s brand identity. Include a QR code or your website name so interested locals can look up more about your swimathon later. 
  • Search engine ads. Make the most of your website event page by increasing traffic to it with search engine ads. Nonprofit organizations interested in Google Ads can look into applying for the Google Ad Grants program, which provides 501(c)(3) organizations with free funds to spend on Google Ad Grants. Consider the types of keywords supporters are likely to search for related to your event, such as “swimathon” and “advocacy events.” Then, create Google Ad campaigns focused on these keywords to help potential supporters discover your event.
  • Newspaper ads. Get the word out to your local community by featuring an ad in your town newspaper. This is especially effective if you are a relatively new organization looking for ways to alert locals about your cause. 
  • Partnerships. Your sponsors want to publicize their connection to a good cause like your swimathon and may be interested in helping with marketing. For example, they may promote your event in their emails to customers, put signs up in their stores, or post about it on their social media profiles.

Whatever marketing channels you choose, make sure to promote your swimathon early and often. You’ll need to give participants plenty of time to mark their calendars, train, and collect pledges.

5. Register Participants

In each of your marketing materials, include a link (or QR code in printed content) to your online event registration form. You’ll want to keep this form as short and straightforward as possible so you can collect necessary information without overwhelming supporters.

Given that a swimathon may require more information from your supporters than other events, such as information about their physical wellbeing and whether they may need assistance during the event, consider how you can break up the form to make the process simpler. Also, invest in a secure payment processor so your participants can be sure that their credit card information is safe when they pay their registration fee.

For a physically demanding event like a swimathon, you’ll likely need participants to sign a digital event waiver when they register. Consider using a waiver platform to stay organized and easily check in participants on the day of the event.

6. Start the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Component

When sending out your registration form, ensure your peer-to-peer campaign is already set up. Create a consistent, professional experience by branding the peer-to-peer fundraising pages with your organization’s logo and colors, and make sure participants can share the campaign as easily as possible through social media and email. Also, the fundraising software you choose should record data automatically as it comes in to streamline the process.

After a participant registers, send them a link to their fundraising page. Encourage them to personalize their page with photos and their own message about what your cause means to them. You can help them get started designing their pages by providing templates and a suggested message that explains your cause, event, and how their family and friends can donate. This personalization adds a level of trust for first-time donors—they might be more inclined to give if they’re asked by someone they know.

7. Host the Swimathon

The day of your swimathon is when you’ll see all of your hard work pay off. Make sure your event staff and volunteers arrive early to set up and double-check everything at your venue. You can ensure your event runs smoothly and safely by:

Also, get creative with how you engage your participants throughout the swimathon. Have one of your staff members welcome everyone to the event and build excitement before participants start swimming. Encourage participants to invite their family and friends to cheer them on as they swim, and remind them to post photos from the event on social media and tag your organization.

8. Evaluate Your Fundraising Success

After your event wraps up, analyze the data you collected throughout the campaign. Then, revisit your fundraising goal. First, see if you raised as much money as you’d hoped, and then make a judgment about whether your event engaged participants and spread awareness.

Once you’ve determined your overall fundraising results, look more closely at your data to determine exactly what went well and where you could improve. Store the data and reference it when planning future events at your organization. It may also be useful to compare the data from your swimathon to other peer-to-peer campaigns or athletic event fundraisers your organization has held in the past to determine how effective this particular event was.

9. Follow up With Supporters

Lastly, you’ll want to thank everyone who made your swimathon fundraiser possible. To show your appreciation effectively, segment your event supporters into four key groups and send personalized thank you letters or emails to each of them. These groups include:

  • Event participants. When you thank the supporters who participated in your event, share the final results of your fundraiser and emphasize that they made it possible for your organization to further your mission. Because participants have already shown an interest in being involved with your organization, end your email to them by suggesting other opportunities to engage, like signing up for your newsletter or registering for a future event.
  • Peer-to-peer donors. As you write your thank-you email, remember that many peer-to-peer donors are likely getting involved with your organization for the first time. To retain these supporters after your swimathon, end your thank-you message by sharing some resources to help them learn more about your organization as a whole.
  • Volunteers. Don’t neglect the people who ran your swimathon behind the scenes! Emphasize the critical role that their hard work played in your fundraising efforts, and if you have any merchandise branded to your organization like t-shirts or water bottles, offer it to them as a token of appreciation.
  • Sponsors. Instead of just sending an email to your event sponsors, thank each of them via a phone call or video chat and give them a shoutout on social media. Going above and beyond in showing gratitude to your sponsors can lead to partnerships that continue to benefit your organization in the future.

Following up with each of these groups can help your organization cultivate relationships that last long after your swimathon ends. Personalize each thank-you message with at least the supporter’s name (and include more unique details if possible) to show you value each and every individual who contributed to the event.

Keep these best practices in mind during your swimathon fundraiser.

4 Best Practices for Swimming Fundraising Events

There are a few extra tips you’ll want to keep in mind to maximize your fundraising capabilities and create a positive experience for everyone involved in your swimathon fundraiser. Make the most of your event with these four best practices: 

1. Make the Event Competitive

Athletic events like swimathons are often more engaging when there’s some friendly competition involved. You can introduce competition in both the swimming and the fundraising elements of the event by incorporating these ideas:

  • Display a leaderboard of the top peer-to-peer fundraisers during the event.
  • Provide certificates or prizes for participants who finish at the top of the leaderboard.
  • Allow supporters to sign up as individuals or as part of relay teams that compete against each other.

If you make your swimathon competitive, your supporters are more likely to stay engaged throughout the event, leading to higher fundraising totals and a better overall experience.

2. Secure Corporate Sponsorships

Getting businesses to sponsor your swimathon can have both short- and long-term benefits for your organization. Leading up to the event, you’ll be able to secure monetary and in-kind donations from your corporate sponsors, and you can expand your audience by promoting your fundraiser to the business’s existing customers. Your swimathon can also be the start of a lasting relationship with these sponsors that spreads awareness about your cause, provides financial support, and boosts your organization’s credibility.

Many major corporations provide nonprofit sponsorships, and local businesses are also a great source for sponsorships because they may already be familiar with your organization and want to help their community. No matter what businesses you ask to sponsor your swimathon, remember to cultivate a relationship with them and recognize their support before, during, and after the event by adding their logos to your marketing materials and showing your appreciation. 

3. Design Branded Event Merchandise

If you’re looking for an additional way to get participants to contribute during your swimathon, consider designing and selling merchandise like t-shirts, water bottles, or swim caps at the event. Your supporters will have something to take home to commemorate their participation, and your organization can earn extra revenue.

Make sure to include your organization’s logo on any merchandise you create. That way, whenever supporters wear or use the items they bought at the event, they’ll continue spreading awareness about your organization long after the fundraiser ends.

4. Invest in the Right Software

As previously mentioned, event management software will play a key role in your swimathon’s success. Some software features to look for include:

Look for these features when you choose event software for your swimathon fundraiser.

  • Streamlined registration, check-in, and merchandise sales
  • Offline capabilities
  • Real-time data reporting
  • Customizable peer-to-peer campaigns
  • Mobile barcode scanning

One software solution that has all of these features is the 4EventDay App by Grassroots Unwired. Instead of dealing with paper forms or complicated spreadsheets, your event staff and volunteers can simply download the app on their tablets or smartphones and start checking in participants. Plus, 4EventDay integrates with several CRM platforms, making data tracking and analysis even easier for your organization.

Wrapping Up: Additional Fundraising Event Resources

If your nonprofit or advocacy group is looking for a creative way to raise funds and awareness for your cause, consider hosting a swimathon fundraiser. Swimathons also allow your organization to build relationships with participants, peer-to-peer donors, and corporate sponsors, in addition to being great annual fundraisers.

For more information on fundraising events, check out these resources:

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