How can nonprofits plan successful endurance events?

Cheryl Pompeo

By Cheryl Pompeo

America seems to be going fitness crazy. In the past decade, the popularity of 5Ks, half-marathons, and Spartan races has exploded. And many nonprofits have hitched their wagon to the train, looking to endurance events as a way to fundraise and gain exposure.

But like a newbie runner encountering shin splints for the first time, nonprofits discover that organizing an endurance event is not as simple as just racing out of the door. With events seemingly scheduled every weekend between Easter and Thanksgiving, many nonprofits find out the hard way that just organizing a race does not mean the runners will come. So how can an organization ensure a successful position in a crowded field?

For starters, don’t race. And we’re not talking about your employees participating in the race (that’s highly encouraged). We’re saying give your nonprofit plenty of time to plan. In most cases, you’ll need at least a year to successfully organize an event, particularly since finding and reserving a course is a process that requires significant lead time.

As with any large project, you’ll want to assemble the right team to organize an endurance event. It’s ideal to have a planning committee of volunteers who will work with a staff member on race recruitment, logistics, fundraising, and promotion. Of course, having beneficiaries of your organization and any individuals with connection to the running community on the committee will increase the chances of success.

Once you have the right people in place, the decision-making and planning process can begin. And perhaps the most important decision is what kind of race to hold, and when to hold it. This decision is best informed by the goals of your own organization: A nonprofit looking to reinvigorate an established donor community may benefit from a low-key race in its own back yard, while an organization seeking a new donor base may want to expand to different niches or geographic areas.

It’s also important to clear major logistical hurdles first. By working to secure a race location, date, and corporate sponsor, the committee can then turn its attention to promotion and planning. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a nonprofit’s goal to win the gold with their first race. We actually recommend planning endurance events in three-year phases and emphasize growth over huge financial success in the first year.

But that’s not to say inaugural endurance events can’t be a hit on the first go-around. Dunleavy & Associates recently helped a client plan a new race that drew 350 participants and buoyed its constituent base. If your organization is considering holding an endurance event but is unsure of its capacity to successfully plan, it may be beneficial to seek out a planning partner to help make your event successful.

About the author: Cheryl Pompeo is Senior Project Manager at Dunleavy & Associates and brings nearly a decade of experience in special event and volunteer management experience to the firm. Formerly a Senior Director of Special Events and a Regional Director for a Philadelphia area healthcare nonprofit, Cheryl also specializes in campaign fundraising, corporate development, donor cultivation, board and committee development, and program delivery. Cheryl uses her knowledge to help Dunleavy’s Clients strategically plan and implement endurance events, including walks, runs, and marathon campaigns.

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How can our nonprofit address a new need without mission creep?


By Stephanie Taylor

As nonprofit professionals, it’s in our nature to help as many people as possible. When we see a new opportunity to expand services and improve the lives of more people, it’s difficult not to jump right in and set a plan into action. That’s particularly true when there’s new money available for services and your organization wants a piece of the pie.

But expanding without careful planning is a time-tested recipe for mission creep. A nonprofit with the purest intentions can suddenly find its mission diluted, its staff in over their heads, and its clients and donors upset or even angry. Fortunately, there are guiding principles and questions a nonprofit can use to ensure that a new direction is the right one.

The first question a nonprofit considering a new service should ask itself is, “Is anyone already doing this really well?” Take a look at your target population and see if there is an organization successfully providing the service you’re considering.

If that’s the case, serious thought should be given to a partnership proposal. The other organization has already done the heavy work of laying an operational foundation, and can tell you what assets your organization has that would be of value. For example, an organization committed to supporting youth entrepreneurial efforts might benefit most from another nonprofit’s relationships with schools in the area.

By working together, both organizations can stay within their wheelhouse, while expanding services to new areas without encountering the perils and pitfalls of mission creep.

If the answer to the prior question is no, and there isn’t an organization already devoted to the effort under consideration, it doesn’t automatically follow that your nonprofit should be the one to lead the charge. It’s at this point that it becomes instrumental to refer back to your strategic plan, and carefully consider whether the program or opportunity fits within your nonprofit’s mission.

There’s nothing wrong with an organization evolving with the times — in fact, it’s a necessity for survival — but it must be done strategically. Providing new services should be a decision made by the board, which can consider the implications thoroughly. If the board determines the new opportunity is truly necessary in changing times, it can alter the strategic plan, put other projects on the back burner, and free up the resources needed to launch successfully in this new direction.

Seeking the board’s approval and an alteration of the strategic plan also helps guard against the slippery slope of mission creep. If it takes leadership-level consideration to add new services, it will be difficult for departments to slide too far down the mountain until somebody notices. Without this safety net, the impact of your current programs could get watered down, your staff stretched too thin, and you might be viewed as an organization lacking a clear direction or commitment.

By following this process, your organization’s employees not only will know they have the resources and approval to add new services, but donors and clients will be assured that their stakes are in good hands.

About the author: Stephanie Taylor has spent 15 years in the nonprofit sector working in almost every capacity, from program delivery to operations. She specializes in leadership, change management, and nonprofit operations, and holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from Eastern University.

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