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Tips for organizing a successful (and fun!) event.

by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan


Fun runs and jogathons have long been popular fundraisers for PTOs and PTAs. They create a lot of excitement and spirit at school and, in the right circumstances, they can raise thousands of dollars. The drawback is that they can take a tremendous amount of organization and volunteer power to pull off.

Jogathons follow a simple structure: Students are encouraged to collect donations or pledges, either as a lump sum or for each lap that’s run. Even in their first year of hosting a fun run, PTOs can have big success with these events.

In recent years, several companies have sprouted that will organize your fun run for you, making this fundraiser more accessible for smaller groups and easier to pull off overall. They can help plan and run your event as well as provide fundraising materials, including an Internet pledge site. In addition, they can add the cool factor by creating color runs, glow runs, and other fun themes and touches.

Raise money and build school spirit with the ultimate fun run planning guide

For the past two years, the PTO at Bramlett Elementary in Auburn, Ga., has worked with a company that provides all the marketing materials, hosts individual websites for students, and takes pledges online. Parent volunteers handle all the prizes and put on the actual event.

The fun run takes place during the school day. Grade levels wear different color T-shirts as they circle the track to upbeat music and complete special laps like skipping and backward running.

The first year, the event brought in $16,000, and students who raised $400 or more earned a raffle ticket for a tablet. With a few changes in the second year, the school had 58 percent of students participating and kept $20,000 after expenses.

“We wanted to reward registration, so any level of donation earned a prize,” says Melanie Martin, PTO president. “Our highest fundraiser brought in $965, but we also had students bringing in 3 cents and 87 cents from their piggy banks and we counted endless envelopes and baggies of coins.”

The local bowling alley donated a goody bag for every student, and the PTO distributed prizes weekly before the event.

“Our principal announced top-pledging students by classroom and grade levels every day, and teachers were competing within grade levels,” Martin says.

Crozet (Va.) Elementary hosted a glow run that raised money as well as emphasized physical fitness and community support. Crozet is a rural school outside of Charlottesville, but the event still drew 330 participants. The glow run took place on school property beginning at 7 p.m. Each registrant received a day-glow yellow T-shirt, a glow bracelet, and a glow necklace. Kids ran around the soccer field for as long as they wanted, as fast as they wanted, with friends or family or on their own. After the run, there was a dance party and DJ.

“We have a long history of a running club that happens every spring and decided to host a glow run as a celebration of our club training,” says Marcey Dodd, a parent volunteer and mom of a Crozet 3rd grader and 1st grader. “Our goal was not to lose money our first year, and we made money from community sponsors who put ads on the back of T-shirts.”

Like Crozet Elementary, the Columbia El­ementary PTO in Brooklyn, Mich., wanted to add some color to their fun run. Their annual event is titled Keep the Arts Running. “Our main objective through the PTO is to pay for our art program,” says past PTO president Gretchen Speidel. “We pay the salary of the art teacher and provide a stipend for materials.”

The Columbia PTO decided to add the color component to boost participation. For a $20 regis­tration fee, students received a white T-shirt, a bottle of water, and a few other donated items. The event was also open to the community, and adults could participate for $30. Runners passed by different stations on the course and were doused with cornstarch-based powder in primary colors.

“Our past fun runs started on a strong note, but then they went downhill,” Speidel says. “And we had to pay for every student even if half didn’t participate.”

The 2014 edition of Keep the Arts Running was open to entire community and raised about $8,000.

“We got amazing community support. They provided raffle gifts, attendance, cupcakes, water... and the classroom that raised the most money won a free trip to the local bowling alley,” Speidel says. “We have enough color to host another run in the spring, and expenses will be less.”

PTOs can have success if they choose to work with a company or plan the event on their own. Like any big project, a fun run needs several key ingredients, including an organized committee and lots of volunteers. But the most important component is a group of excited, motivated kids who can’t wait to get to the starting line.

A Note About Insurance

Before an unusual or large event like a festival or fun run, check your insurance policy to make sure it covers all activities at the event. And don't assume your school’s policy is enough. For more information on parent group insurance available through PTO Today, go to

What To Expect

Companies are available to help you with your pledge-based fundraising event, whether it’s a jogathon, walkathon, spellathon, or something else.

Typically, companies will:

  • Allow you to take donations over the web

  • Create individual website pages for students

  • Provide how-to information for organizing your event

  • Provide incentives, a kickoff rally, and other fundraising accessories

They may also:

  • Organize and run your event

  • Provide curriculum tie-ins, such as health, fitness, and character education

Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly.

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