How to Run a Dog Walk-a-Thon (and other pet themed fundraisers)

Lap-a-thons are one of the most popular and financially lucrative fundraisers around. They are also incredibly easy to organise, and once you have the basics down pat [no pun intended], and there is documentation to pass to the next person, you can start getting creative. A dog walk-a-thon is the next step, and if your school or organisation is getting a little bored with the normal lap-a-thon, then this may be just what you need to re-ignite interest in the event.

How to raise money with a dog walk-a-thon

There are endless opportunities to make money from this event:

  • Charge an entry fee (charging ‘per foot’ is a fun way of making money – it might be $1 per foot ie. $2 per human and $4 per dog).
  • Ask entrants to get sponsors (a certain number of dollars per lap).
  • Get local businesses (especially vets, pet stores, groomers, breeders, dog washers, local dog-groups, grocery shops or the local council) to sponsor the event with cash donations (to cover costs) or providing prizes. In return you can offer them advertising space in your newsletter, signage, naming rights, market stalls on the day or mentions during official speeches. You can easily turn the event into a market, dog walk and dog show all at once.
  • If you are raising funds for an organisation like a dog shelter or animal welfare group, you may consider asking participants to raise funds as an extra challenge. This may be done through individual/private fundraising or online pledge pages. If the money is being raised for a school or sporting club, you will be more likely to raise funds via entry fees and per-lap sponsorship.
  • Hold your event on or near Halloween, and call it ‘Howl-oween’ – get everyone (humans and dogs) to wear Halloween costumes and offer prizes for the best ones.
  • Hold a raffle – perhaps you will have two prizes, one for humans and one for dogs.
  • Allow local pet-friendly businesses to have market/information stalls set up on the day. You charge them a nominal fee for the space, as well as asking for cash or product donations for prizes.
  • Hold a sausage sizzle or cake stall.
  • Get students to make dog-themed arts and crafts to sell on the day.
  • Have a ‘Yappy Hour’ after the walk for dogs where they can indulge in puppacinos and home-made dog biscuits. 
  • Make and sell these yummy and really cheap pet treats which are suitable for both cats and dogs.
  • Hold a pet fashion parade or dog show.
  • Hold a dog wash.
  • Set up a photo booth with some cute dog and human costumes and props. Have a volunteer photographer available to take photos and sell the digital images for a small fee. Alternatively you could ask a professional pet photographer to attend your event for free (and hand out brochures etc) in return for taking photos for a small fee.
  • If you are really motivated, attempt to break a record involving dogs. Check out the Guinness World Records site to see what records have already been set, the guidelines for attempting a record break, and then all you need is one really good idea – most dogs simultaneously being washed or groomed, the longest line of dogs in the world, the most number of dogs wearing costumes – it’s entirely up to you. For example, the current record for the most dogs wearing bandanas was set in 2017 in South Africa and stands at 765 dogs.

When and where to hold a dog-walk fundraiser

If you have access to a school oval or sports field this is the best option. Make sure you inform the local council and that they give approval for the event, but as long as you can assure them all dogs will remain on leads (this should be a condition of entry) they will probably give permission. They may even send a representative of the council to talk to dog owners about registration, local ranger services and other pet-related concerns.

Hold it during the milder months, and either early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat of day. If you are opening the event to the local community, choose a weekend to maximise participation.

Your course can be as simple as a circle marked out on the oval, or a more scenic route through local bushland or dog park.

Other things to consider

Promotion of your event is essential. Not all your school/club families will have a dog, so you will probably need to open the event to the wider community. This will shift expectations, so make sure you carefully manage them by way of a dedicated event page – a website or Facebook – which can be used to promote your event.

Consider options for dogless families who may still want to be involved. Will your local dog shelter allow families to ‘adopt’ a dog for the day (this may be of mutual benefit, and allow for plenty of great media opportunities).

Create posters and ask local businesses (such as pet stores, vets, groomers etc) and dog clubs to provide flyers to customers, or even promote on their websites or via newsletters. Approach your local newspaper to see if they will cover the event (make it easy for them to say ‘yes’ by having a couple of cute dogs [and their owners] available for a photograph).

Instead of a lap-a-thon where the aim is to walk as many laps as possible, an alternative is a fixed route such as 1, 2 or 5 kilometres. Having different length routes caters for different sized dogs (and owners).

On the day, ensure you have plenty of water stations for dogs (perhaps four or five stations around the course that are constantly monitored and refreshed when required).

It is inevitable that one or more of the dogs will poop during the walk. Simply provide poop bags at each of the water stations and have one or more bins set aside for disposal of the bags. Think carefully about which bin you plan on using for this, and perhaps as a courtesy, arrange for a bin washer to clean it after the event.

Consider speaking with the council or a local vet about how to handle difficult situations that might arise such as an aggressive dog. They may suggest having entrants sign a waiver as a condition of entry, in which case you may need to get a lawyer to help you draft one. Having a vet on hand as well as a first aid station is a wise idea.

A dog walk is a great opportunity to get creative and have fun. Don’t just call it a ‘dog walk’ – flip it on its head and promote to dogs who want to ‘walk their human’ and write all advertising material directed at the dog, rather than their owners.

Author: Shannon Meyerkort

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