Demystifying Virtual Races

How to Organize A Virtual 5K Race Fundraiser

Rahul Razdan Rahul Razdan
September 2020

virtual races
We're all familiar with the traditional 5K-in-the-park (and other run, walk and ride) fundraising events. Simply put, a Virtual Race is a typical 5K-in-the-park event, but with one big difference - there is no park/event location and thus no event infrastructure costs associated with it.

Virtual races leverage technology to bring participants together as they individually walk, run or ride anywhere and at any time they want. In addition to making the event more accessible, virtual races are quick to set-up, are affordable to host and work like a charm for organizations of all sizes and focus areas. Do it right, and you can run a virtual race each month/quarter/year, making it an integral part of your wellness & fundraising strategy.

Did you know that in-person races cost approximately 52 cents for each dollar they fundraise? Virtual races in comparison only cost around 15 cents on a dollar raised.

Interested in starting a virtual race?


Whether you're a non-profit looking to host a virtual fitness fundraiser or an employer interested in running a virtual wellness challenge, virtual races can be a fun, engaging and affordable way to pursue these goals. Over the past 7+ years, we've helped hundreds of organizations, created tens of thousands of such fundraisers. Although there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to these races, we definitely see some trend lines. Here are four basic steps that most of the virtual races have.
1. Participant Registration

You can either charge a small participation fee (a donation to the cause your race is supporting), or keep the race free to encourage maximum participation. We see partner organizations typically charge between $25 and $50 as registration fees.
2. Solicitation & Corporate Donations (a win-win)

Empowering participants to raise funds through their peers is one of the best ways to help the cause you're supporting. Additionally, consider inviting corporate partners to sponsor the race and show their support. Employers running these races as employee engagement/wellness initiatives can pledge to make donations contingent on employees meeting their goals, or match donations raised on the race.
3. Fitness Tracking

A simple virtual race can be executed by collecting participants' distances through email or a web based self reporting form. At Charity Footprints, we allow race participants to link their wearable trackers (Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch etc.) or a mobile fitness application directly with the race site, making the fitness reporting process streamlined & engaging. These wearable integrations provide a great opportunity to sustain longer duration fitness/fundraising commitments instead of 2 hours on a race day.
4. Giveaways, Prizes etc.

Virtual race prizes may vary, but we see giveaways such as race medals, certificates, t-shirts etc. You can also go full-virtual for these and include e-Bibs/e-Certificates/e-Medals etc. Adding such gamifications to a virtual race helps with overall engagement.


  • Break down your virtual race duration into segments: We prefer a separate registration period, peer invitations & fundraising period, and (the fun part) fitness tracking & competition period.
  • Focus on marketing & engagement instead of operations: In our experience, you don't necessarily need a shiny medal and the costly t-shirt to run a successful virtual race, rather focus on bringing the community together and engaging with them.
  • Think about building a program, not just executing a project: Virtual races are quick, scalable and affordable. It provides you an opportunity to build a year long program (monthly, quarterly etc). Given how easy it is to run these, consider a longer term strategy.
  • Align race incentives with growth: We see successful campaigns incentivizing actions that lead to growth. Prizes for inviting more participants, doing more miles, creating the biggest team, posting workout pictures etc. are some great examples.
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