Running for their Lives

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Running for their Lives

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'Running for their Lives' by Crossroads President @MikeSwenson

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A Tough Mudder participant takes a plunge into the mud pit, one of many obstacles along a 10-12 mile Tough Mudder course.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 11:00am

CONTENT: Article

by Mike Swenson, President of Crossroads

If we all had the time and inclination, we could probably do a charitable run or walk two or three times a week. The proliferation of these events is remarkable. Their success is why. Hundreds of millions of dollars are raised for great causes by people walking or running every year. But what does the future of such events hold?

Some of the biggest and best-known charities depend on a walk or run event for a significant portion of their revenues to fund their missions. Many of these have been around for years and even decades without changing their formats. People sign up. They gather on the day of the event. They walk or run a course. Activities typically take place before or after the event but once the event is over, people generally leave and go home.

The millennial generation will have a lot to say about the future of charity walks and runs. It doesn’t interest these 20 and early 30 somethings to just walk with hundreds of other people. They want more action. They want more engagement. They want to make it an event they and their friends can enjoy together.

Take The Color Run, for example. It looks like any other charitable run on the surface. But at each kilometer of the 5K race, people are waiting to throw powdered paint on each person and color them up. The end of the race becomes a giant Color Festival. Money raised goes to local charities in each market. The Color Run debuted in January of 2012. This year there will be more than 100 events with a million participants.

How about the numerous Undie Runs taking place on university campuses and local communities across the country? People show up fully clothed then strip down to their underwear and run a race. Their clothing is donated to people in need.

Then there is Tough Mudder, an endurance event series benefiting The Wounded Warrior Project. Participants run the gauntlet of an obstacle course that would make a Marine proud. There will be 52 Tough Mudders globally this year.

These events and so many others are popping up because younger generations want to do more than just walk or run and write a check for charity. They are looking for the unique and the different. They are looking for a challenge for their friends and them to engage in together.

Charitable organizations can’t change their events over night. But smart nonprofits will think about how to create engaging events that attract millennials and even Generation Z (the under-17 crowd) behind them. A decision to not do so now is a big bet on the future of their fundraising.

The question they have to ask themselves is this: Will Gen Y and Gen Z still be showing up for the old, traditional versions of walks and runs 20 years from now?

A smart nonprofit will be investing for the future right now and figure out a new format for charitable runs and walks that will be around in 20 years.