Why in the world would anyone run a 5k in record setting heat in Arizona? To help homeless cats, of course!

The first annual Fearless Kitty 5K run/walk on June 5 of this year was a huge success, surpassing both the registrant goal of 300 and fundraising goal of $10,000.

“This turned out to be one of our top three fundraisers, and we’ve done a lot!” said Kim Kamins, co-founder of Fearless Kitty Rescue.

Never having planned a race before, they had an initial goal of 100 runners and $5,000, but quickly changed it after they saw the interest. “It was amazing to see the public not only come together to support us, but to help raise awareness about the need of rescuing and saving the lives of cats.”

If you’re thinking it sounds like a lot of work, you’re right, but to them, it was worth it.

“Just being at the actual event and watching everything unfold was like watching a dream become a reality,” said volunteer and race director Victoria Gallagher. “It ended up even better than the vision we had for it! It was also fun watching leaders emerge out of the many of the volunteers. They took their roles and made them even bigger and better than I had imagined.”

Another perk? Seeing the participants excited about achieving their own goal of doing a 5K for the first time. “Many of the participants were not typically into running, but they did so for the love of cats!”

Money was raised through various ways including registration fees, sponsors, donations, a merchandise booth on-site and more. “One of the coolest things we did to raise money was to offer ‘sponsor a cat’ where people gave an additional $20 for a kitty to go on their back when they run,”  said Kamins.

Thinking about putting on a fundraising race of your own? Gallagher shares her first-time planning experience.

“There are a lot of details involved in running an event like this, but know that it can absolutely done. I initially took this on as a leadership project for a class. I was literally clueless on where to begin.” she said.

On top of that, she had only moved to the state a few weeks prior to starting the project. But her passion for cats, running and achieving goals carried her through. That, and the help of some pretty awesome volunteers. “They’re really the backbone of this whole thing.”

After successfully pitching the idea to Fearless Kitty Rescue, Gallagher’s first priority was to recruit volunteers. “I highly recommend getting a team together 6-9 months in advance. The director should keep in close contact with those members and meet in person a few times. A group of 12 volunteers was good for us.”

Along with giving praise and recognition, the director should have good attention to detail and organization skills, and be a visionary with compassion for people and the cause. Being able to give clear direction and delegate responsibilities is key.

“I did a little research online and found many free resources for how to put on a 5K. We just kept taking steps forward using those guidelines.”

Gallagher divided the event into four sections, each with a team leader:

  1. Logistics: The course, the venue, the timing company, the permits and insurance, etc.
  2. Sponsors: “I tried to offset any costs we would incur with a goal for getting so many sponsors.” She suggests having someone solely in charge of this who isn’t afraid to ask for money and support.
  3. Volunteers: The leader will basically assign all the roles of the race and be the relationship backbone and keep a cohesive team. They had 40 volunteers for the race. Many were volunteers of the Fearless Kitty Run already, and they found more through VolunteerMatch.com and social media.
  4. Registration: This is the person who is basically in charge of the participants, assigning bibs, and keeping all the participant information organized.

While these are the more involved roles, each taking anywhere from 10-20 hours a week, there are less time-consuming roles such as outreach efforts, getting food and beverage donated, someone in charge of social media and the website, etc.

As for marketing, they printed about 1,000 flyers and had volunteers hand them out to whomever, wherever and whenever they could.  They also did a press release in the local paper and utilized social media.

Gallagher’s final advice for first-timers? “Know that it’s a lot of work and takes discipline and follow through. Some of the steps are scary because there is a commitment of money — money that you don’t know you will be able to make back before having sponsors and registrants,” she said. “But you have to be able to step through those fears. After all, look at what can result!”

She also encourages being bold and asking people to be a little unreasonable with themselves. “They will thank you in the end for being put in a position to go above and beyond what they thought they could do.”

If she learned anything at all, it’s that just like adopting a cat, “It’s more about attitude than skills or knowledge.”