Why We Walk: Stepping Up to Support Charity

With better weather, and folks eager to get outdoors after a long winter, spring is the perfect season to support a charity walk or run. These community events offer a fun way for people to learn more about an issue, express their collective support for a cause they care about, and become part of a grassroots movement for making a difference.

Most of us have at least one–if not several–causes to get out and support with our friends or family. Charity walks and runs are a relatively new phenomenon, with a CROP Hunger walk in 1969 and a March of Dimes walk in 1970 among the very first. Today, there are more than 26,000 such events each year in the United States, and Running USA’s State of the Sport Report estimated that road races raised more than $1.2 billion for non-profits in 2012.

Funds raised through charity walks make real things happen, from medical research to sustaining and expanding services and programs. Yet such events aren’t always the most efficient fundraisers. Expenses range from police presence and signs to gift bags and entertainment to attract participants. Add to that hours spent coordinating volunteers and reaching out to donors.
So why organize or attend a walk when it might do more immediate financial good to make a donation? It’s also about awareness, and charity walks that are well supported create community among the people impacted by the cause and those who care about them.

People who start walks and form teams have been significantly affected by a disease or inspired to advance a cause. They are everyday people who have lost family members to cancer, have siblings with autism, or live with a common condition such as food allergies.

These events require the power of the crowd to be successful. Sports teams, clubs, and families form their own rosters–with unique T-shirts and crowdfunding and team pages–to generate spirit and raise funds for the cause.

Consider the case of one chapter of Best Buddies International, which creates opportunities for friendships, jobs and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2014, their Albany, NY, Friendship Walk raised $35,000 but struggled to grow. Three years later, their walk raised more than $175,000 and was one of the top five fundraisers in the country.

Led by a tenacious chairman, Peter Gannon, the Friendship Walk increased its fundraising by 480 percent in three years and grew new community and corporate relationships that are a source of potential support for years to come.
Feeling inspired to step up your support and help grow your cause’s annual event? Gannon shares these strategies for success.

  • Identify a dedicated chairperson and co-chairs: Choose supporters with strong networks of friends, family, and corporate relationships, willingness to put in long hours, and social media and marketing expertise.
  • Take advantage of autumn: Line up sponsors for spring walks in the fall. Hosting a breakfast for corporate sponsors to teach them about your organization’s mission is a great tool for recruiting. Best Buddies hosted a VIP reception prior to its annual Friendship Ball to reinforce the engagement of key corporate recruits.
  • Engage staff, volunteers and “super volunteers:” Best Buddies seeks out volunteers with a direct connection to the mission as well as people who can quantify to others why it is important to support this effort. “Super volunteers” are the people willing to use their network to advance the cause financially and to raise awareness. These are the people you know who are tireless in their efforts to reach out to friends, family and co-workers.
  • Go vertical: A “laddering” strategy helps by reaching across networks to families, schools, and down to sports teams, clubs, and student leaders. For the Albany walk, this increased participation on walk day, funds raised, and volunteers for community service.
  • Get it all online: If your charity is part of a national organization with a less than robust crowdfunding platform, think about creating a simple video about how to create a team page and posting this on You Tube for your audience. Getting people to register online for the walk as a participant is always a challenge. Create incentives such as branded T-shirts and other giveaways. Social media posts are essential for fundraising and event participation. Celebrate fundraising goals met, share photos and stories, and post often!
  • Make it fun: Weekly fundraising challenges for top donor and top corporation help to keep momentum going up to walk day. Share when you are close to your goal. Best Buddies successfully used ticket giveaways and corporate donor matches. It also provided a neon yellow Walk T-Shirt for all fundraisers over a certain amount, and volunteers wore gray shirts. This made them feel special and helped them to be recognized for their efforts.
  • Sustain involvement: Keep everyone connected to the mission. Try a phone call day where you just reach out to say “thank you” and share the news about your programs. This is an amazing opportunity to surprise your core supporters, to ask them for feedback about what could be improved, and you may get them more involved.

The 2018 Best Buddies Friendship Walks are Coming Up!

April 22, 2018 Albany


May 5, 2018 Rochester

May 12, 2018 Long Island

Long Island

November 3, 2018 Riverside Park, NYC


To Find a Best Buddies Walk Nationally: