How to Fundraise for Your Next Walkathon

You decided you're going to participate in a walkathon for your favorite cause. But you've just found out they require you to raise a minimum amount. An amount that seems astronomical to you. What do you do?

First of all, good for you! Thank you for caring enough about the cause to put yourself out there and raise money for it. Our world is a much better place because of people like you.

Fundraising can be a fun journey. Here's a simple 4-step process for successfully raising the minimum amount--and maybe alot more than that!

  • RESEARCH
    The first step in any fundraising effort is to research. By doing research up front, you--or you and your team--will lay a terrific foundation for achieving your goals. Here are some suggestions on what to do:

    1. Determine how much are you are going to raise
      Specifically. Not the "more-is-better" answer but how much? $1,000? $2,500?

      This will often come from the minimum amount you need to raise to be part of the event. But what if you raised more? Figure out a specific dollar amount.

    2. Find out if the nonprofit has different giving levels to recognize donors
      Often nonprofits will recognize donors by assigning them to a donor level "Founders" or "Contributors" or "Patron." Find out if the group you're supporting uses these and if gifts given by your friends will be recognized in this way. It'll help later on.

    3. Develop a plan to reaching that goal
      If you're trying to raise $2500, it's easy to fall prey to thinking you "only" need to find 100 people to give $25.

      This just doesn't happen.

      We've been studying fundraising for decades. Although this sounds wonderfully egalitarian, experience shows that people give varying amounts.

      Plus, if you only ask $25 from someone who'd gladly have given $100, you're leaving money on the table.

      To do the research of creating a plan, go to a tool like GiftRangeCalculator.com. Plug in the amount you want to raise and the calculator tells you what size gifts you need to ask for and how many prospects you need.

      If you do it for $2500, you'll get something like this [click on the image to enlarge it]:
      Gift Range Calculator for a Walkathon

      You'll see that it recommends your top gift be $625--the equivalent of 25 people giving $25! A tool like this is based on decades of fundraising experience and can really help you develop a map to raising the amount of money you need.

      You'll also see that if you get all the gifts recommended, you'll actually raise $3200. I did this intentionally. I wanted this calculation to be conservative so that even if you miss some of the 49 gifts, you'll still reach your goal.

      I also did this because if your cause is worth fundraising for, it's worth raising more than the minimum!

    4. Research your prospects
      The gift range calculator also recommends you list 5 prospects that might be able to make this gift. In our experience, it often takes five prospects for every gift. But that doesn't necessarily mean your other four will say "no." They will probably come in at a lower gift level. Especially if you do the next step well: engage.

    5. Make a list
      Now that you know how much you need to raise and how many people you need to get there, start making a list. List people according to how much you think they could give. Now isn't the time to qualify your prospects. Just get them listed. Don't say, "Oh, they won't give." Let them make the decision to give or not when you get to the step of asking.
  • ENGAGE
    Researching can feel safe because you're doing important work but you don't need to see anyone face-to-face. There's very little risk. But research alone doesn't raise any money. You need to engage with the prospects you listed.

    Engaging prospects is like dating. You get to know what aspect of the nonprofit intrigues them and you get to share why you're committed enough to do a walkathon. Since you'll be asking your friends, you probably won't need to take a lot of time on this step, although the first 5-6 gifts may need more intentional meetings.

    Your major goal in engaging is to find out how to effectively ask the prospect. What are their hot button issues? What do they value? What about your cause would most likely be attractive to them?

    When you call someone to get together, make sure to be clear on the purpose of the meeting. If you're going to ask them for money, do them the honor of letting them know. Nothing is worse than being invited "just to talk" but finding out the real reason was to ask. Even if a gift is made, both of you leave feeling slimed and it costs you your integrity. Simply say something like, "I'd like to talk to you about your support of the XYZ walkathon." This is vague enough to leave room for an ask if the opportunity comes up.

    A portion of engaging can also happen online. Building your Twitter followers and Facebook friends can help introduce more people to your cause. Just be sure to be a human. It is social media, so talk about things other than the walkathon!

    This step is relatively comfortable too, so don't get stuck here. Engaging can happen over a period of time or over a cup of coffee. But it won't get you to your goal if you don't ask for a donation.

  • ASK
    Asking is the name of the game. If you did nothing but this, you'd have some level of fundraising success. But now that you've done the research and the engaging, you'll have much better odds at actually reaching your goal.

    At this point, the prospect knows your goal and what a gift will accomplish. And you have an idea of an aspect of the nonprofit that would be more appealing to her. So asking is merely inviting them to participate at the level you want in the area they want.

    Easy, right?

    If you're setting up the meeting, let them know it's to talk about their "involvement in " or "support of" or their "contribution to" the walkathon. At the meeting be ready to ask for a specific dollar amount.

    If you just ask someone to contribute, they have no idea what "contribute" means to you. If you were asking for a gift from a $625 prospect, she might think a $25 gift was contributing. She has no way of knowing how much you were expecting.

    Don't worry about asking too high. I've never had anyone get upset about being asked for too much. They've laughed in my face! But they've never been upset. Often they say they're flattered I think they could give that much.

    If saying the specific amount is too intimidating, have your gift calculation with you when you make the ask. If you're artsy, you could even make a gift pyramid with boxes representing the gifts needed at each level. The calculation print out or the gift pyramid gives the prospect a chance to see they aren't asking to be the only donor. And it lets them give a gift that will help, even if not at the level you're asking. (They might even see a higher amount needed and go for that!)

    This is also where the research you did into your nonprofits giving levels can help. Say you're asking a business to be the $625 donor. Not only will you be able to tell them how that fits their values, you can say it'll be recognized by the nonprofit at the "[Fill in the blank] Giving Club" level.

    Asking can be one-on-one, and probably should be for the bigger gifts. But asking can also be done in a group setting like a dessert reception. In fact, after each of your bigger donors say "yes," ask if they'd be willing to host a dessert reception to help you fundraise. This could be a great way to introduce the cause to new people and raise money!

    Also, remember that each "prospect" needn't be a human. You may feel more comfortable holding a silent auction or a bottle drive or a shopping party where a percentage of the profit goes to your walkathon. All of these are legitimate. Events can be great in getting more press for your cause and creating buzz about the event. But I'd highly recommend locking in some of the top donations before going the event route. Many people will feel they've given if they've participated in one of these events, so going back to them for a personal donation might feel awkward.

  • LOVE
    No matter how the your prospects respond, they are always worth more than the amount of money you asked them for. Chances are, you're asking your friends and your friends friends to support you in this walkathon. Be sure to treat them well enough to keep those relationships even after the walkathon is finished.

    If a prospect says "yes," it's easy to treat them well. Thank them there. Write a note thanking them. Ask them to join your Facebook or event page so they can see the progress you make. And be sure to follow up with all your donors after the event.

    If they say "no," it can be a bit harder. First of all, the "no" may be simply that they are able to give at a different amount. Perhaps they just can't give as much to this walkathon as they did to your last one. At bigger gift levels, some people might find it easier to pay in monthly installments or some now and pledge some later.

    But the baseline is: be courteous to everyone. I'm embarrassed I have to mention this, but so many of us get so wrapped up in our cause and our fundraising goal, that we forget a simple lesson from kindergarten: play nice with each other.

There you have it! Following this simple 4-step process on how to fundraise for your next walkathon, making it much more fun and enjoyable! Remember, you're doing an awesome thing raising money for your favorite cause! Thank you!

What would you add?