A-thon events are taking the fundraising space by storm. It doesn’t matter if you’re an elementary school educator working to fund afterschool programs or a full-fledged fundraising professional trying to manage a nonprofit — anyone can leverage this highly lucrative fundraising type to generate revenue and have fun while doing so!

Like with any worthwhile effort, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to pull one of these events off successfully and maximize the return on your investment. From choosing your theme all the way to following up on pledged donations, there’s a clear path you’ll need to take to create an event that engages your supporters and produces positive results for your team.

A-thon events can be intimidating to even the most seasoned fundraising professionals, so don’t stress if you’re new to the fundraising game. We’re here to help with this quick guide that covers the essentials. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • How A-Thon Events Work
  • Why These Campaigns Work
  • Tips for Hosting a Memorable A-Thon Event

By following the advice in this guide, you’ll create an event that people can’t wait to participate in. In fact, you might even find yourself adding it to next year’s fundraising calendar too! Let’s dive into the basics.

How A-Thon Events Work

First and foremost, you might be asking yourself, “What’s an a-thon?” Don’t worry — it’s pretty simple!

A-thon fundraising is a type of campaign where participants engage in a specific activity — such as reading, walking, or even dancing — for as long as possible. Here’s a step-by-step process of how this type of campaign most commonly works:

  1. Using specialized software, participants set up personalized fundraising pages that they’ll share with their family and friends.
  2. Their loved ones donate a lump sum or pledge to donate per each unit of activity.
  3. Participants complete the designated activity.
  4. Once the deadline has passed, supporters’ credit cards are automatically charged.

One big consideration you’ll want to determine early on is whether you’ll charge donors on a per-unit basis. Traditionally, those running this type of campaign take a pledge-style approach. However, people tend to pledge less when they’re not sure how much they’ll wind up having to donate. That’s why many event coordinators now opt for lump sum donations. That way, donors know how much they’re giving upfront, and you can collect donations as soon as the event wraps up without having to chase down donors.

Let’s look at a specific example of how this type of campaign might look in action. Let’s say you lead the charge for a K-12 school’s fundraising activities and decide to host a read-a-thon.

Essentially, you’ll invest in a read-a-thon fundraising platform. Then, your students will raise donations from their loved ones. Their teachers will set aside some class time for them to read, and you can either choose the reading materials for them or let them choose their own books. From here, your fundraising platform will do the rest for you by empowering your students to log their hours while their families submit donations to reward their hard work.

It’s that simple! You just need to determine what theme will entice people to participate, whether your audience is interested in reading, exercising, or some other activity!

Why These Campaigns Work

Between raising money, marketing your cause, and fully capturing your community’s interest, any organization can find an enticing reason to host an a-thon event.

The company Read-A-Thon specializes in this type of event and breaks down the benefits of hosting one on its PTA Fundraising page. While specific to schools, any fundraising group can experience these advantages:

  • You don’t need a ton of volunteers to pull it off, which is especially helpful when you have minimal staff bandwidth to spend on your event.
  • You can break down geographical barriers by leveraging virtual software. That means people can participate and donate to your online event, even if they’re on the other side of the globe.
  • You don’t have to push an unwanted fundraising product on your supporters. Instead, a-thons incentivize the fulfillment of personal goals, like fitness or education. For example, read-a-thons encourage students’ families to support their academic development.

Not to mention, it maximizes your reach by using a peer-to-peer approach to marketing. Instead of relying solely on the supporters you’ve already earned, you get the bonus of securing donations from their networks of like-minded individuals. These people are invested in their loved ones’ success and are, by default, also interested in your cause!

There are plenty of reasons to leverage this type of event in your organization’s fundraising strategy. Now, how can you set your a-thon event up for success?

Tips for Hosting a Memorable A-Thon Event

With a solid understanding of the basics, you can now jump into the fun part of your initial planning: making your event stand out. Here are three easy strategies to create an event your community won’t soon forget.

1. Choose the right theme

As we’ve mentioned, there are tons of different a-thon events you can host. The right theme will naturally reel your community in from the start, so pick one that suits their interests. After all, the success of your event depends on their participation.

While we’ve already discussed a few options, let’s take a closer look at different themes and the types of audiences they suit:

  • Read-a-thons. Perfect for schools and young audiences, read-a-thons require participants to log as much reading time as they can over the course of several sessions. Regardless of whether it’s held in-person or as an online fundraising program, participants will enjoy competing with their friends, raising money for your cause, and promoting literacy.
  • Walkathons. Great for any cause, walkathons are one of the most popular events for nonprofits. They work particularly well for health-related causes since they promote a healthy and active lifestyle. For this event, your participants will walk for as long or as far as they can, typically on a per-lap or per-mile basis depending on your course.
  • Serve-a-thon. This event theme is perfect for organizations that rely heavily on volunteers or simply want to do more good in the community. Organize an event that’s centered around improving your community, whether that’s picking up litter, delivering meals to those in need, engaging in advocacy work, or some other volunteer-led activity. Participants can collect donations, then participate for as long as possible or try to do as much as possible within the allotted time.

Having trouble picking the right theme? Get input from your audience with a quick poll to see what would encourage them to sign up. When you consider what makes the most sense for your audience, you can tap into their unique interests, and your event will see much higher participation levels.

2. Offer incentives

Especially if you’re dealing with a younger audience, incentives can go a long way in inspiring everyone to do their absolute best. Prizes reward hard work and maximize the amount of money you receive.

Bear in mind that the incentives you offer should vary based on your audience and the amount of money you expect people to raise. You also might tie them back to your theme. For instance, if you’re hosting a read-a-thon, offer bookmarks or books as prizes to remind your supporters of your event even after it’s over.

If you’re hosting a walkathon, offer water bottles and t-shirts branded to your cause. Bonfire’s guide to walkathons explains that branded merchandise is a fantastic way to motivate your supporters and develop a sense of community among participants. Just be sure to tie the design to your group’s identity, your audience’s identity, and your event’s purpose by infusing elements of all three in your design!

If you divide up into teams, a celebratory party is a perfect way to drive everyone’s motivation until the very end of your event, too. Let’s take the classroom setting for example. You might reward the top-earning class with a pizza or ice cream party, and students can enjoy hanging out with their peers for an hour or so.

The bottom line: However you reward your participants, you need to take their interests into account to truly motivate them, just like you should when selecting your theme!

3. Invest in dedicated software

This type of fundraiser calls for specialized tools to get the job done. A generic peer-to-peer or crowdfunding solution might suffice if you get creative, but they’re fundamentally built for a different kind of campaign.

A-thon fundraising software allows your supporters to easily set up their personal fundraising pages, log their participation, and choose their prizes when they reach certain milestones.

Not to mention, these types of tools allow you to run everything online without having to deal with paper forms or track down people for payments. That means you can also run your fundraiser remotely without risking participants’ comfort by making them attend in person.

Ultimately, software created specifically for running a-thon events will make everyone’s jobs easier, whether your team needs to check on individual progress or your participants want to optimize their pages to secure more donations.

A-thon events are an increasingly popular form of fundraising. Their immersive atmosphere and low-touch administrative processes make it incredibly easy to generate widespread support for your cause. Now that you understand the basics, you can get started by selecting the right theme for your event as well as the tools and incentives to match!