Serious runners don’t attend fun run fundraisers to meet their fitness goals, but you will find them at fun runs — along with beginners. Fun runs are ideal as an event for the whole family, for generating community spirit and, often, to raise money for a good cause. Participants can run, walk or push little ones in strollers, sometimes winning prizes for their efforts. Meticulous planning is just as important for a short fun run as it is for a lengthy race, because overlooking even small details can easily take the fun out of the run.

The goal of a fun run is generally to raise awareness for a cause, generate positive PR for sponsors, and obtain funds through registration fees, gear and food sales, and participant sponsorship.

Defining a Fun Run Fundraiser

Someone somewhere must have decided that any race over one mile would not be considered fun, because fun runs are generally one mile. Sometimes runs of a half-mile, quarter-mile or dash are added, too, if children of many ages will be participating. Not everyone can win a prize for the fastest run, so participants must find satisfaction in just finishing the run — an accomplishment that’s much more feasible when a variety of short runs are offered.

To keep more experienced runners happy, 5K runs (equal to 3.1 miles) are often held along with the fun run. More races mean more participants and more participants mean more funds are raised. Planning for a 5K is much the same as for a fun run, although multiple races will require more volunteers, more supplies, a larger space and a longer time commitment on the day of the event.

Getting Started With Planning

Fun run fundraisers need more than someone to shout, “On your mark, get set, GO!” at the starting line and others at the finish line to declare the winners. The first step in planning a fun run is to form a Planning Committee and name its chair or co-chairs. Planning Committee members should be organized leaders with the time and determination to reach out to others by phone, email or in-person visits to ask for the funds, supplies or special favors they need. Use each volunteer’s knowledge (or willingness to learn) to handle one specific job, including:

  • Registration Chair
  • Website Chair
  • Publicity Chair
  • Volunteer Chair
  • Sponsorship Chair
  • Equipment and Supplies Chair
  • Prize Chair
  • Finance Chair

For example, ask an accountant volunteer to serve as Finance Chair and someone who works in advertising or public relations to handle publicity. If you know someone who did an awesome job as Volunteer Chair for another event, sign her up for yours.

Pinning Down the Details

Together as a group, the Planning Committee needs to decide on:

Purpose: People like participating for a good cause, like raising money for a local school playground, a local sports' league's equipment, for a local resident with a serious illness and high medical bills or whatever your purpose is. Consider if you want to state a goal, such as a dollar amount you hope to raise.

Location: Brainstorm possible sites and the pros and cons of each, including schools, community parks and local trails. Schools have running tracks, while trails have shade, varied terrain and interesting scenery. Community parks often have shelters with picnic tables where organizers can hold registration and check-in and wait while the races are run. Unless you decide to hold it at a school, check with local administration if you need a permit and the cost of each site.

Date: Consider spring or fall dates that are about three months out to give the committee time to plan, promote and get maximum registrations. Check holidays, local community calendars and national promotions to either tie into or avoid. For example, in September the American Heart Association celebrates National Heart Month, while in October, pink ribbons are the standard symbol for breast cancer awareness. Choose a rain date and publicize it.

Time: Most people are available Saturday mornings, and the earlier the better to avoid running into sports games that possible participants will go to instead — 7:30 a.m. is a good starting time, with registration and check-in beginning at 7:00 a.m.

Length of fun run or runs: The standard length for a fun run is one mile. You can also add shorter runs of a half-mile or less, for example, if you anticipate many small children participating, and a 5K to attract more serious, experienced runners.

Fees: It's customary to charge a registration fee, and $10 per participant works for most people, but consider a $25 flat fee for families, too. This brings in funds upfront, which you may need to pay for some supplies. To raise more money, ask participants to find friends and family who will "sponsor" them with a donation.

Theme: Create a clever theme, race name and fun run design ideas that will be used in all promotional materials. If you want to incorporate color into your fun run, contact a company that provides color runs. Color fun run objectives are to shower racers — who wear white — with different colored powder at certain points in the run so they are multicolored at the end. Color fun runs don't have winners or award prizes; the fun is the color and camaraderie while working towards a common goal.

Calling for Volunteers

Begin to recruit volunteers as soon as you've set the date, time and location so potential volunteers can put it on their schedules. Start to get the word out wherever you can — on the website, in schools, in the community sections of local newspapers and on social media.

On the volunteer form, along with name, phone number and email address, ask volunteers to check areas they'd be interested in helping with. Ask, too, if they have special skills that might be useful.

Securing Swag, Prizes and Sponsors

If you want to provide T-shirts for participants — who love to keep and wear them as mementos of events — get their sizes when they register and publicize the final day to register and get a t-shirt so you have time to order them. Ask t-shirt companies for a discount, and a sponsor to pay for them: It never hurts to try!

Unless someone donates the shirts, get bids from several companies, starting with someone you or another committee member know personally. Other ideas for swag include water bottle koozies, stickers, inexpensive pins and pens, each printed with the fun run's name and date. Prizes could be large ones donated by sponsors — a TV or a bike — or smaller ones such as printed ball caps, visors and commemorative race flags.

State on all communications that you're looking for event sponsors and what sponsors receive in return, such as free family registration and announcement of their sponsorship in all promotional materials. Then list your dream sponsors and what you'd like them to give, and begin contacting them.

Feeding a Crowd

Offering food for purchase is another way to bring in funds. Keep it simple with profitable foods like hot dogs, chips and beverages. Use fully cooked hot dogs so you won't worry if they're cooked enough; just heat through and keep warm.

You'll also need healthy snacks to offer the participants after their run, such as fruit, yogurt, breakfast bars, juice and Gatorade-type drinks.

Publicizing the Event

Posters plastered around town are a good start, but to attract large numbers of participants you'll need to make more of an effort. Some ways to spread the word are:

  • An event website and someone to update it regularly.

  • Social media presence with a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram and a volunteer to post on them.

  • A press release to send to local newspapers, online news sites like Patch and others, and radio and TV stations. Follow up with phone calls asking them to write articles and interview a Planning Committee member or a family that is planning to participate. 

  • Printed materials like posters, hand-outs and registration forms (with an address to send to) for the technically challenged. All materials should contain the event's name and theme, date and rain date, location and time and an email and phone number for questions.                                                                                                         

Making the Day Successful

To make sure everything goes as planned:

  • Check the weather forecast the day before the event and early on the day of; reschedule for the rain date if necessary.

  • Ask Planning Committee members and set-up volunteers to arrive at least an hour early.

  • Check that route volunteers have mapped out all races.

  • Put up signs for late registration (at a higher fee), check-in, race areas, food, water, etc.

  • Set out trash and recycling receptacles.

  • Check that the microphone is working or pull out the megaphones.

  • Get race officials — starters and finishing timers or judges — in place.

  • Announce for racers to line up for each race.

  • Record finishing times, announce winners and award prizes.

  • Get clean-up crew going; leave the site better than you found it.

  • Return all borrowed materials and equipment.

  • Send thank-you emails to volunteers, sponsors and participants, with updates on the number of participants and winners' names.