In the early days of peer-to-peer fundraising, walks and runs were king.
They were accessible to just about everyone, easy to replicate and even easier to understand.
But as the field has matured — and technology has improved — fundraising walks have lost some of their cache.
Today, fundraisers are rappelling down the sides of buildings, growing funky mustaches, taking part in virtual fitness challenges and partaking in a long list of other activities for their favorite charities.
What’s more, a number of longstanding walk campaigns have struggled in recent years — leading some to proclaim that the fundraising walk is dying.
But while some walks and runs are struggling, we’re not ready to make the same proclamation.
In fact, a number of organizations in both the United States and Canada are seeing significant gains in their fundraising walk revenues.
Longstanding programs like Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk, and Aga Khan Foundation’s World Partnership Walk are thriving.
And a number of newer programs, such as Blue Sea Philanthropy’s Coldest Night of the Year, have been among the fastest growing programs in North America in recent years.
To borrow from Mark Twain, “Reports of the death of the fundraising walk are greatly exaggerated.”
However, our interviews with the professionals who oversee these thriving programs reveal that, to succeed, fundraising walks need to have some, if not all, of the following elements:
A True Focus on Fundraising
Some nonprofits view their walks as opportunities to raise awareness and engage potential supporters — so much so that they de-emphasize the fact that they want participants to raise money.
The organizers of Coldest Night of the Year, for instance, report that they were seeing a decrease in the number of participants who were raising more than $150 — and discovered that they had become less aggressive with their calls-to-action that emphasized raising money.
“We removed some of the clutter and noise in our fundraising toolkit and moved to keep things basic but savvy,” said Brian Carney, Blue Sea Philanthropy’s chief executive. “
A Creative Theme
While most walks follow a typical formula, many of today’s growing walks rely on a clever twist to stand out from their peers.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walks take place at night — and tie closely to the organization’s mission. The Out of Darkness series has been one of the fastest-growing large peer-to-peer programs in the U.S. in recent years — growing by nearly 17 percent to $17.3 million in 2016.
Another fast-growing campaign — Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk — centers around participants sending illuminated balloons into the night sky.
Coldest Night of the Year, meanwhile, gathers participants to raise money for Canada’s homeless on a frigid February night.
A Strong Tie to Mission
While many of the fastest-growing walks have a creative hook, they also rely on something else to keep participants engaged and coming back: a strong tie to the organization’s mission.
For Light The Night, for instance, walking at night is more than just a way to differentiate the campaign from other large-scale walks. It offers a clear connection to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s effort to shine a light on blood borne cancers and to help cancer patients navigate a dark time in their lives.
“When you or someone you love hears the words, ‘you have cancer,’ it’s one of the darkest moments of your life,” said Coker Powell, senior vice president for Light The Night. “But Light The Night is bringing light and making a real impact on the lives of blood cancer patients.”
That message is carried through every statement the organization makes about the campaign — and is a central theme for participants on the night of the event.
Finally, many of the most successful walks share another key trait — they are able to clearly show the impact that fundraisers are making through their donations.
For example, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride, which raised $16.86 million in 2016, calculates how many lives are affected by donors and how much money is funneled into research.
Another growing program, Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s World Partnership Walk, takes a different approach to showing impact — by telling individual stories of people who have been helped by the more than $100 million that has been raised during the history of its program.
There’s no right way to show your impact. But it’s important to take time to show your results through stories and data.