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This article is sponsored by our friends at 99Pledges, the free fundraising platform. Enter below for a chance to win a balloon arch kit (and 300 balloons!), a perfect add-on for fun runs, walkathons, danceathons, and other pledge fundraiser events. One lucky parent group will win each month!

From fun runs and walkathons to mathathons—more than ever, schools of all sizes, locations, and budgets are getting in on the fun of -athons and fun runs. There are lots of reasons for their popularity—they encourage kids to be active, they bring the school community together, and they can raise thousands of dollars for your group.

We’ve rounded up some popular fun run and -athon variations (maybe even a few you haven’t tried yet), then added a way to change it up (or make it a virtual fundraiser). Many of these ideas will work for different pledge fundraisers, so the sky’s the limit! No matter what kind of -athon you decide on, 99Pledges can help you raise and keep more cash with much less work.

Color Run

In this (super popular) variation, participants run through clouds of colored powder, typically tossed at them by adult volunteers, or have colored liquids sprayed on them, usually at a few stations along the course. It’s messy, it’s loud, and it’s really fun—for the kids, what’s not to love?

Amp it up! Instead of (or along with) throwing powder at the kids, let them do the tossing. Offer colored packets based on pledges collected, or just hand participants packets at the end and let them have at it.


Choose a theme, schedule the school gym, start publicizing early, enlist a lot of volunteers (because 24 hours is a loooooong time), find a DJ or volunteer with a variety of music, line up lots of food and drinks, and schedule breaks. Don’t forget to sign up the principal for dance lessons!

Amp it up! This is one event you’ll want to memorialize! Enlist a few parent photographers to capture the action, and set up some inexpensive selfie stations around the room so participants can share photos of themselves getting their groove on.

Make it virtual! Set up a Zoom or Facebook Live invitation, play some tunes, and encourage kids to use their best moves. Just like a live event, you can choose a theme. Make it even more exciting for them by inviting the principal and some teachers. Encourage parents to post photos of their kids in action to your social media channels. (Hint: Try these tweaks to hold other virtual fundraisers, like a walkathon!)

Obstacle Run

Using tires, cones, Hula-Hoops, gym equipment (the list could go on...and on), volunteers set up a course that kids maneuver themselves over, around, and through. Many obstacle runs also have a mud pit or muddy area, so good thing 99Pledges frees up parents from chasing down cash and checks or tracking everything on paper—they’ll have plenty of time to get to that dirty laundry.

Amp it up! The best help you could ask for is right there in the building. PE teachers can offer lots of guidance on obstacle courses; often they’ll be glad to loan equipment or even help set up the course.

Zombie Run

Oooh, brainnnns. And costumes. During a zombie run, runners typically wear tags similar to flag football and try to complete the course before volunteers in zombie costumes can capture all three tags.

Amp it up! Let the kids be the zombies! This works particularly well for events scheduled near Halloween. Give kids the option to dress at home, or round up a few volunteers to apply some zombie makeup before the race begins.

Glow Run

Dinis Tolipov/123RF

This is a nice event for those who could do without the mess, or who want or need to hold their event indoors: Participants can simply wear a day-glow yellow T-shirt, a glow bracelet, and a glow necklace.

Amp it up! Sounds fun, but it turns out you kind of want the chaos? There’s such a thing as glow powder—and, of course, glow paint. So if it’s mess you crave (and you’re able to hold your glow run outside), round up a few willing volunteers and let them splatter participants. (Grown-ups can take a deep breath. You might end up with some cleanup, but 99Pledges simplifies everything else—starting with giving your group a dedicated 99Pledges success manager—so you’ll have plenty of bandwidth.)

Reading Pledge Challenge

If you like the idea of a fundraiser that requires relatively few volunteers, boosts literacy or other learning, and can happen rain or shine, a reading pledge challenge might be your winner.

Amp it up! Combine your school’s reading challenge with a book swap. Schedule the school library (or other area with enough space) for some group reading time, and encourage participants to bring some books to swap. This promotes both togetherness and cleaner bookshelves at home.

Make it virtual! At its heart, a reading challenge is a fundraiser done individually—so it's easy to take it completely online just by not including group activities (the same can apply to spellathons/mathathons—see below). That said, you can boost the fun from afar by rounding up some teachers to record themselves reading to students and posting the recordings. Alternatively, you could encourage parents to record their kids reading their favorite books to their teacher.


johnkoetsier/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A fundraiser that reinforces spelling or math skills in a fun way? Yes, please! Make your spellathon even easier to pull off with 99Pledges’ handy spellathon word list for kids to study.

Amp it up! Increase the academics—and the competition—with a bonus round. Have spellathon participants spell a few words backwards; for mathathons, set a timer for a speed round to see how many equations participants can solve. Whichever round we’re talking, you’ll keep more than ever because 99Pledges’ platform now has a 0% platform fee and $0 startup fee—there’s no better way to maximize profit!


This is a fun one. During a hitathon, each participant gets 10 pitches; donations get charged per hit.

Amp it up! Up the buzz (and your returns) with a championship hitathon. In this variation, there’s a two- to three-week fundraising period; the player from each team who raises the most money (or every player who raises a certain amount) gets to participate in the championship hitathon.

Straight-up Fun Run/Walkathon

There’s a reason they’re called “fun” runs—because they are! The ways to make them even more fun are endless—and with 99Pledges’ worry-free online sharing and fundraising platform (which involves zero parent setup), you can double or triple the amount you raise!

  • Switch it up so the laps aren’t boring. After a certain number of laps, have the kids run or walk in the opposite direction, or take a dance break.

  • Bring on the tunes! Music gets everyone going and helps keep racers motivated. Some schools hire a DJ, but you can also ask a volunteer to bring their sound system and play some fun songs.

  • Invite your mayor or other local celebrity to attend and cheer everyone on.

  • Lead a group warmup before the race with a few trainers from a local gym.

Whatever pledge fundraiser you decide to try, whether live or virtual, 99Pledges can help make it a success with individual participant pages, email and social share functions, web and mobile accessibility, and automated tracking functions.

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