When planning a fundraising race, representing a cause or incorporating a theme can be an effective way to draw more participants. Elite runners will run a race because it fits into their training program for a greater goal they are working toward or because they simply love the sport of running. Whether there is a cause or theme, the serious runners may not notice as much. It is not likely to influence this subset of participants to sign up or not.

However, where you will see a dramatic upswing in registration is with the casual runners, recreational walkers, and residents of the local community wanting to come together to support a good cause or partake in a fun theme. People inherently want to be part of something bigger than themselves alone; to feel that collectively, we can make a difference. It is also human nature to feel compelled to help others in need. When tragedy strikes, individuals want to pull together and assist those impacted. This is where your specific cause or theme will most heavily influence participants to join you.

Make it personal. Make it relatable. Make it memorable. You want race participants to leave your event inspired, uplifted, and connected to your cause.You will find there are races representing every cause imaginable – all deserving of our fundraising dollars. But what makes your event different is how you translate the relevance and importance to your audience.

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If race participants do not feel like they can relate or connect to your cause in some way, on some level, they may not return for a second year. If you ask repeat attendees why they return each year to the same races, they are quick to rattle off their reasons. And trust me, it usually has something to do with the beneficiary of the event – the “why we are doing this” factor. If people do not support where their money is being put to use, they will find another race that better matches their belief system.

Which leads to my next point – with the volume of races in the market, all competing for the same registrants, you must consider: what makes your race different? What makes your event special or unique? This differentiation (or lack thereof) can make or break the success of your event.

Depending upon the geographic area, there can be multiple races scheduled for the same weekend in the same region. Where I live in  the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, there are often numerous races on the same day within a 30-mile radius.

Runners and walkers have options, so you need to give them a strong reason to pick your race to attend. Fully incorporate your cause or theme into all aspects the event, to make it evident to registrants where the fundraising dollars will go. Avoid making the mistake of listing the beneficiary on the marketing materials but then never mentioning them at the event. It should all make sense to runners and walkers and they should be able to clearly state – this is the cause I am supporting by attending this race, this is why I am running or walking today, and here is where the money is going that I donated.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with organizing a race just for the fun of it or just for the love of running. We need those types of events in our market too! They can be a refreshing change of pace; a welcomed relief from the heavier subjects. One style of race is not better than the other – both can be successful if you tap into the right audience. Be cognizant of your target registrants and plan your event accordingly to best suit their interests.

Read more Ashley’s advice about planning your nonprofit’s race event here in 9 Factors to Determine if a Walk/Run Event is Ideal for Your Nonprofit

About the Cause: The Race For Grace, which began in 2007 as a grassroots effort led by a small group of friends, has developed into a true community event and has grown considerably over the past eight years throughout the Pittsburgh region. Ashley Metz Leax had known Tamara and Brian Ekis, co-founders of the Reflections Of Grace Foundation, for many years prior to their daughter Grace’s diagnosis with an inoperable, incurable pediatric brain cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Affecting primarily children, DIPG is the rarest and worst of all pediatric brain tumors and those diagnosed are given a short survival period. The annual Race For Grace is held each spring in loving memory and celebration of Grace, while also raising much needed funds and awareness.