How "Thons" Work
No matter what kind of "thon" you choose to run, what you're really setting up is a pledge drive. Your volunteers or participants pre-register and gather pledges for donations, based upon the number of laps or miles they're able to complete on the day of the event.
You'll need a location or a course for your riders, walkers, or runners, pledge sheets for those participants, and volunteers to staff your event, possibly selling food and beverages for a little added profit. After the event, your volunteers return to their pledge contributors and collect the funds they've been promised. Most people begin planning their "thons" about eight months in advance, allowing plenty of time to choose a course, find participants, and gather pledges.
Choosing a Course
Where would you like to host your event? This will mostly be determined by what sort of "thon" you're going to be running. A bike-a-thon course will likely run for at least ten miles, preferably on a loop. If the course is not a closed loop, you'll need volunteers to place signs at the appropriate intersections throughout the route. A walk-a-thon or a run-a-thon works well on a cross-country 5k course, but can also be run on a track, which is a great way to pair the event with beverage and food sales due to the centralized locale.
Walk-a-thons sometimes last for twenty-four hours, with teams of walkers working together. Trike-a-thons can be held in church gyms or parking lots, and are a lot of fun for both parents and children. Setting up cones or flags to mark the loop for your toddlers will add a festive feel to your event.
When "Thons" Work Best
Late spring and early autumn are often the best times of year for "thon" pledge drives -- try to choose a date when good weather is likely and people will enjoy outdoor exercise. Sunny, not too hot, and not too cold are the ways to go. In addition to your primary date, you'll want to choose a rain date in case the weather decides not to cooperate. Consider making this date a few months past the initial date - this way, if the weather is nice and your first event is a success, you'll be able to hold another awhile down the road!
When looking for participants for your "thon", start close to home. There are likely many people in your congregation who are willing to participate, and they may be able to spread the word amongst friends and other interested parties within the community. Also, talk to local cycling and running clubs, many of whom may be happy to get involved.
It's also a good idea to post some fliers advertising your event in likely spots - sporting goods stores, cycling shops, local universities, and community centers can all garner a nice response (you may want to post fliers twice - once when looking for participants, and again a month or so before the day of the event). Make sure your flier has all of the appropriate contact information, in addition to the name of the event, who it will benefit, and why they should get involved.
Set a goal for how many participants you'd like to have and a date by which you'd like to reach that goal, leaving plenty of time for your volunteers to gather pledges.
After you've rounded up your volunteers, host a brief meeting explaining the pledge drive process. At this meeting, you'll pass out pledge drive sheets, and also a second sheet with an envelope for direct donations. Keeping pledges separate from donations will make the pledge the focus of your volunteers' efforts, which is as it should be, as pledges are likely to be more profitable for your church on the whole. Your pledge drive sheets should have columns for:
- Pledge Amount
Keep in mind that children and teens are often able to gather the most pledges, but that adults can do quite well with a good handle on your message. In addition to your pledge drive sheets and envelopes, consider creating and handing out a short mission statement for your fundraiser, detailing the cause it will benefit and why it's important for your community to make donations. This will help your volunteers of all ages to convince their friends, family, and coworkers to contribute to the drive.
If you're looking for a way to help your community get in shape and increase your church's visibility, a "thon" fundraiser may be just the event for which you've been looking. With careful planning, great volunteers, some appropriate advertising, and good weather, you'll be able to raise a good deal of money for your church or religious organization.