Thon Fundraising 2013: Would You Like Some Mud With Your Run?

With the arrival of spring comes another season of thon fundraising. From Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., good-hearted folks are once again hitting the roads and hitting up their friends for contributions to support good causes.

Peer-to-peer fundraising traces its roots back to 1968 with the launch of the CROP Hunger Walk by Church World Service. More than half of the largest programs -- as measured by the annual Run Walk Ride Thirty survey -- are still traditional, short-distance walks or runs. 

But 45 years after people started working up a sweat for charity, many of the programs registering the greatest growth in peer-to-peer fundraising are not your father (or mother’s) step-by-step fundraiser.  


Cycling for charity is making major gains. In 2012, the fastest-growing top 30 program was Pelotonia, a weekend of bicycle rides ranging from 25 to 180 miles supporting the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Care Center. Borrowing from the example of the 33-year-old Pan-Mass Challenge, Pelotonia grew nearly 29% in 2012 to raise $16.9 million. In just four years, it has engaged more than 11,000 riders to generate $42 million.  



Last year, 7 of the top 30 thon fundraising programs were cycling events. Recent results indicate that an eighth fundraiser on wheels will join the pack in 2013: Cycle for Survival, an indoor spinning fundraiser for Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center raised more than $13 million this year.

Mud and Color Runs

Although they are not yet generating industry-leading amounts of dollars for charity, mud runs and color runs are the fastest growing forms of competition on two legs these days and have great potential as fundraising platforms. 

Mud runs are generally 5- to 10-kilometer courses made even more interesting by military obstacles along the way. All of the major series such as Tough Mudder (Wounded Warrior Project) and Warrior Dash (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) have charity tie-ins. 

The National MS Society is the first charity to commission its own series – Muckfest MS offers five-miles of muck-filled mazes, pits and craters with over twenty gigantic steel obstacles and even has a play area for kids (affectionately referred to as “Lil’ Muckers.”

Rather than rolling around in the mud, participants in color runs are doused with brilliant, corn starch-based color powders as they cover a 5k course. Founded in 2012, The Color Run series expects to host over a million participants at over 100 events in 2013 and chooses a local charity in each city it visits as does ColorVibe, a competing series.

Entertaining, Meaningful Experiences are the Future

I’m sure that traditional fundraising walks and runs will be with us for many years to come, but to capture the interest of the Millennial generation and others, it seems clear that thon fundraisers will need to create experiences that appeal to their interests and lifestyles.  

That’s why:

  • The Alzheimer’s Association has created The Longest Day, a program that challenges supporters to raise funds by undertaking an activity of their choice from sunrise to sunset.

  • Covenant House is holding Sleep Outs for groups ranging from students to CEOs to give them a feel for the plight of the homeless and attract financial support.

  • Underwear runs are spreading on college campuses (The Undie Run series), were held in 16 cities this February to support The Children’s Tumor Foundation (Cupid’s Undie Run) and have been held by the Colon Cancer Alliance since 2008 (Undy 5000.)

As Event 360 CEO Jeff Shuck – my go-to guy for insights in this field – recently put it: 

“(T)he future of fundraising is experiential. We want to be together….The more technology we create, the more we create proof that human experience is not only necessary, but irreplaceable. It’s our defining characteristic. But there’s a difference between “what happens every day” and “an event.” Our events need to be unique, and fun, and emotional, and moving. The opposite of normal.”

Next story loading loading..