How to Organize a Walkathon

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Doing All Kinds of Good – The Oft-Ignored Benefits of a Walkathon

A note from Lee: Thanks to our guest blogger, Lisa Sanderson, for this post. Lisa is a a freelance writer and nutritionist covering topics as diverse as the latest in health research, green food production, family nutrition and health, living with conditions and health education.

Mary Scerbo and Ernie Scerbo with pet dog Bender, stand at the serenity garden at their Leamington home on July 18, 2013. In memory of their late son, they are holding a fundraising walkathon at their residence on the weekend. (JASON KRYK/The Windsor Star)

In July, the city of Saratoga was awarded two medals for its efforts to fight childhood obesity. As well as providing affordable, healthy food to its residents, the city hosted three walking events to encourage activity among children: Walk-One-Week, Walk-A-Thon and Let’s Walk! The city’s campaign highlighted the importance of activity to physical well being, and demonstrated the positive impact that a walkathon can have on a community. Making a walkathon fun for kids can get them involved from an early age, and give them a better chance of staying healthy later on.

The driving force behind any walkathon may be charity and the desire to help others through fundraising, but what about the other benefits that it can offer? As well as the physical health benefits of walking, there are mental health benefits, too. Walkathons really are an excellent opportunity to get a community together, and you may find that you are helping individuals in more ways than one.

Physical benefits

Aside from the obvious physical benefits of walking, such as maintaining a healthy weight and increasing fitness, there are some more interesting physical benefits of this sociable form of exercise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is evidence to suggest that walking can reduce pain caused by arthritis, as well as decreasing fatigue and improving function and quality of life. The advantage of walking over other forms of exercise is that it has a lower impact on joints than running does, for example. As a result of the joint pain, those suffering from arthritis are often less active than those without arthritis, but regular exercise could be beneficial in the long run Walking can also be of use in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Medical News Today (MNT) reports that older people could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by taking short walks after meals.

Mental benefits

More and more studies are revealing the benefits that exercise – specifically walking – can have for mental health. PsychCentral reported a study carried out by a professor from the University of Maryland School of Public Health that revealed that older adults could boost their memory recall and brain function through exercise. However, it is not just brain function that can be improved but also mood. Increasing evidence suggests that aerobic exercises can reduce anxiety and depression. Exercises programs are therefore often integrated into rehabilitation programs for those recovering from mental illness such as depression or addiction. Patients at rehabilitation centers, for example, are often encouraged, if not required, to follow an exercise program to help treat such illnesses as codeine addiction or bipolar disorder. The advantage of walking over other forms of exercise is that it is accessible to a wider group of people, and is more sociable. Group walks, for example, create excellent opportunities to talk to others without the pressure of being in a one-to-one environment, and all in a more beautiful setting than a small office or patient room.

Community spirit

One family in Leamington, Utah recently decided to host a walkathon in memory of their late son, Gio, who had faced mental health challenges. He had been a participant in a psychotherapy program at a local hospital, and so the family hoped to raise awareness and funds to support the program. The Windsor Star reports that the aim of the walk is not only to remember Gio: “they are also doing this for everyone with mental illness to let them know they’re not alone.” It is this sense of community and helping others that is at the heart of every walkathon, and with all the added health benefits of walking, it’s hard to see why anyone would not want to host one.

Walkathon Pitstops and Watering Holes: Keeping Your Walkers Fuelled

A note from Lee: Thanks to our guest blogger, Lisa Sanderson, for this post. Lisa is a a freelance writer and nutritionist covering topics as diverse as the latest in health research, green food production, family nutrition and health, living with conditions and health education.
Planning a walkathon can be great fun, but with lots of things to take into consideration, it can be easy to forget some of the most important factors. Like cars whizzing around a track, your walkers will need to refuel to keep their engines running. This might involve sending everyone a message via the Facebook event page a couple of days before the event to remind them to bring some drinks and a few snacks, getting walkathon volunteers to man water stations along the route or even spotting another fundraising opportunity when it’s staring you in the face.

Free water stations

When big organizations host marathons and other running events, at every mile or so there will be huge tables covered with bottles and lined with lots of cheerful and encouraging volunteers holding out water and energy drinks to the runners as they pass. If your walkathon is attracting a lot of attention, it might be worth getting in touch with some big beverage companies or your local store to ask for a donation of bottles of water or energy drinks. It’s great publicity for them and it means you don’t have to spend any of your budget on making sure your walkathon participants stay hydrated.
Unfortunately, these companies can’t give out free drinks for everyone – if they did, they wouldn’t make any money – so you may have to provide water yourself. The cheapest way to do this is buying some plastic cups and big bottles of water, and getting a crowd of happy helpers to pour them out ahead of the walkers’ arrivals. A local school or other organization may be able to lend you some tables to put up along the way.

Free food stations

While it is necessary to provide free water for walkathon participants, providing free food is a choice that you can make for yourself. Giving walkers a little energy boost at various points along the walk or perhaps a treat at the end will give everyone a great feeling about the event, and will ensure that they all have enough energy to get around no matter what they had for breakfast. If you do decide to provide free snacks, there are ways to provide it while keeping costs down.
One of the first things to remember about providing food is that for some walkers, the walkathon is not just about raising money but it’s a way for them to get fit, too. This means that there may be a lot of health conscious people who know that, as Licensed Prescriptions states, regular exercise does not mean that you can eat what you like. On the other hand, there will be those who will love free sweet treats on their walk. Try to provide a selection of food that will cater to almost everyone. Avoid foods that can spark severe allergic reactions in some people, such as nuts. To keep costs down, try to stick to just two or three different foods and order them in bulk to get a discount. Dried fruit is a great healthy option that’s packed with energy, while a slightly less healthy option could be bowls of candy. Chocolate bars make a good snack to give to walkers when they reach the end of their walk.

Fundraising opportunities

The advantage of putting on a big fundraising event is that everyone likes to get involved and wants to pitch in. If there is an area like a park, field or even a backyard where people can congregate before and/or after the walkathon, it gives a great opportunity to set up a few stands to sell homemade cakes, cookies and muffins to raise a little bit of extra money for your cause. There are some great ideas online to give you some guidance on the traditional bestsellers at a bake sale, and you can choose the ones that are most likely to go down well after a good day’s walk.
What food you provide depends on the time of year and the resources available. If you have an electricity supply available, the choice of foods you can provide will be greater. For example, ice cream and popsicles could sell extremely well on a hot summer’s day, while hot cups of soup or chowder could be perfect for a chilly winter’s walk.
No matter what the scale of your walkathon, there are plenty of options for what food and drink to provide to keep your walkers walking and make your day a great success.

Using a Facebook Page to Promote Your Walkathon

Fayetteville Kidney Walkathon Facebook Page

Create a Facebook page for your walkathon now to allow time for the multiplier effect of friends telling friends telling friends.

Facebook Pages are great for walkathon publicity and gaining the support of participants and volunteers.  The coolest thing about them is that benefits multiply as your followers (fans) come on board:

  • When people follow your page (via that “Like” button), all their Facebook friends are notified.
  • Then when you write an update, all your fans can share it with all of their friends, along with a link to your page.
  • Fans can also go to your page and click the “Share” button any time to post a link to your page for all their friends.

You don’t have to be a social networking expert.  Basic setup can be very quick.  Then once you’ve created your walkathon page, you don’t have to maintain it every day.  Take five minutes once or twice a week to say something you think would be of interest to your participants. They are free.

Here’s where to get startedNo time like the present!

Once your page is up, encourage your fans to share your page often. Add updates as often as you can.

Tip: Don’t use Facebook Events for walkathon registration.  You’ll need people to fill in a more detailed form and waiver.  Instead, direct them to your main website.

Please Share or Like my page! You might also like to follow Charity Walks.

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And Now, A Word about Walkathon Sponsors

Use the back of the walkathon t shirt as a way to give your sponsors valuable publicity

There’s gold in the backs of your walkathon t shirts.

Think about the lifespan of a t shirt.  People will wear those shirts for years.  For some kids they become the main items in their wardrobes.

This translates to a nice revenue opportunity for your walkathon.

T shirts offer high visibility for sponsors. There’s still more advertising value in your website, banners, yard signs, press releases, and registration materials. All these items combined represent a good investment opportunity for companies who need local brand awareness and want to support their community.

For upcoming walkathons, approach sponsors at the very beginning of your planning efforts so that you can include their names in all of your publicity materials.

Start with a list of potential sponsors.  Local merchants and services are ideal, as well as the companies where your walkers work.  Don’t forget anyone who sponsored last year, to avoid hurt feelings! Then make a list of all the places you intend to publicize your sponsors.  Determine cost of sponsorship.  Typically you would offer tiered levels to accommodate varying abilities to contribute (such as Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze).  Platinum sponsors would then get the biggest logo on your signs, etc.  Write a sponsor letter and send it to all of your targets.  There is a sample letter you can copy in the Walkathon Guide e-book.  Follow up with a phone call.  With those who commit, set aside time to collect the checks, or  encourage them to pay online via your website.

Sponsorships can add significantly to your fund raising results.  Take advantage of this great opportunity.

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Walkathon Planning PodCast

Walkathon Planning, on BlogTalkRadioDo you learn by listening?  Then we have the podcast for you… words of wisdom from my friend Roger Carr and I, all about planning walkathons.  Click to listen.