Recently, a good friend forwarded me a story by James Hamblin of the Atlantic called “Another Solid Reason Not to Do a Mud-Obstacle Run.” I’ve got to be honest, it’s a bit gross. The gist of the article is that aside from the more mundane risks of doing an obstacle event – sprains, broken ankles, dehydration, the gnawing realization that you’re not 22 anymore – there are an increasing number of bacterial infections being diagnosed in participants. Turns out that those mud pits can have all sorts of icky stuff in them. Yuck!
The mud run trend is one the Plenty team has been watching for quite a while. It is part of a larger dynamic that we call “the escalation of endurance,” the increasing extremism in athletic events. For a long time, the most extreme event that large numbers of people participated in was the marathon. The concept of the 26.2-mile marathon memorializes an event 2,500 years ago when a solider named Phidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to spread the news of the Athenians’ victory over the Persians. When Phidippides got to the city gates, he delivered the good news and promptly died (not a great participant retention strategy).
For centuries, the marathon represented the ultimate physical challenge, but now the marathon is decidedly mundane. We’ve added all-day bike rides and two-mile swims to it to keep it interesting. Then came the idea to run over obstacles and through mud – longer, harder! Jump through fire, swim through ice, keep breathing while we electrocute you. The machismo of the brands is thick: iron, Spartan, warrior, tough, ruck, ninja, alpha, savage.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, and our team has had a lot of fun climbing ropes and getting mucky on a variety of different courses. However, the Atlantic story does bring up a couple of considerations for peer-to-peer fundraisers.
First, for goodness sakes, if you are holding an event like this, invest in a decent production company with tenured staff and the proper insurance. You want professionals safeguarding your constituents.
Secondly, if the attraction of the event is the whiz-bang nature of the activity, then it will be difficult for your cause to stand out. From a practical standpoint, we like the idea of nonprofits entering the obstacle space because that’s where the people are. However, realize you will need to use a different pricing model than what you use on, say, a walk. Be prepared for many of your participants to raise little or nothing at all. Live by the activity, die by the activity, as Phidippides might say.
Another interesting point is that as the analytics partner for the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Forum, we get to pour over a great deal of peer-to-peer trending information each year. This past year, one of the best performing activities in the peer-to-peer fundraising space was the plain, old pedestrian walk. People who come to your fundraising walk aren’t there for the excitement, they are there for you and your cause, and their fundraising shows it.
There will always be new and shiny event trends, and following the trends may help you attract participants, but don’t forget that participants and fundraisers are not always one in the same. When deciding on an event concept, consider whether the goal is to develop a new and exciting activity, or to create a successful fundraising channel. Hint: It should probably be the latter.