Fundraising is a challenge all gyms face, but done right, it can be an exciting, memorable experience for everyone involved. For inspiration, we’re interviewing gym owners who’ve found ways to put the “fun” in fundraising. Meet Josh Filiault, owner of Troy, AL-based Xtreme Athletics. For the past four years, Filiault and his team have organized a highly successful zombie-themed 5K run, raising as much as $25,000.
How does the zombie run work? It’s a 5K race, and “zombies” are scattered throughout the course. We get volunteers—athletes, parents, coaches—and they dress up as zombies. You can sign up as an individual or as a team, and most of the teams wear costumes. Each runner gets a flag football belt with detachable flags, and the goal is for them to get through the entire 5K with at least one flag left on their belt. If they do that, they’re considered a “survivor.” We charge each runner $30, and every runner that comes through the race gets a T-shirt, a meal (chips and a hot dog) and a bottled water at the end. We set it up out in the woods, including obstacles. (My business partner has about 100 acres of land with a lot of natural trails, and we bulldozed it level.) We tie our gym sponsorships through it all; we’ve found we get a lot more sponsorships going toward the race than going straight into the gym.
How are the sponsors involved in the race? There are two kinds—monetary and goods. The first year, we had a lot of expenses because we had to buy the belts and get the trail ready, but for the past couple of years, we haven’t had many expenses. We do medals for the survivors, so that’s around $100+ a year. Almost everything else is donated, including the runner packets. I don’t think of the T-shirts as an expense, because it’s built into what we’re charging them.
Our platinum sponsors pay $650 for a 4’x8’ banner. They can design it however they want, and we hang it up in our gym for one year. Our platinum sponsors, we advertise pretty much everywhere we can—their logo is on the shirt, and they can hand out whatever they want to at the race. Gold sponsors get a smaller banner, their names on the T-shirt and are able to hand things out at the race. At the silver level, we put the logo or name on the back of the T-shirt. We also give the businesses free cards for our “Kids Night Out” and allow them to have a free team entry of three people into the race. We try to make it a big deal that whoever supports us, we will support those businesses.
How has the event grown? The first year, we had about 175 runners. We didn’t have a lot of sponsors, but we raised a couple thousand dollars and were pumped about that. It was a lot of work, but the volunteers that were zombies and the runners had fun doing the race. Every year, people keep coming back to it. This year, our goal is 500 runners. We’re in a relatively small town, but we have a lot of people that drive in for it. Last year, we raised between $20,000 and $25,000, and our goal this year is $30,000. We have some teams going to Triple Crown this year, and we want to raise enough money to pay for their charter bus to Dallas, their entry fee and at least half of their trip to UCA Internationals.
How do you promote the zombie run? Word-of-mouth is a big part of it. We have a guy who works for us who’s a graphic design major, and he does posters for the run. We print 300 14×17” posters for about $1 apiece in our area and hang them up wherever we can within an hour’s drive. We also reach out to runners’ clubs that are nearby. We’ve had people drive as far as four hours to come to the race because their runners’ club liked the idea of it.
What advice would you give another gym that’s interested in setting up a 5K fundraiser? Be organized and start planning early. We do the run in October, and we start planning it in May. There are so many races nowadays that if you don’t start advertising it as early as possible, another race will pop up and take runners away from you. We experienced that the first year—there were like four races the same weekend as ours. The second year, we started communicating with some of the other races, and worked together to make sure we weren’t on the same weekend.
Really think through the whole race—making sure your water coolers can stay cool, that you have people managing those stations, that the zombies are getting water and that they’re not out there dehydrating themselves. Where we are, parking is an issue, so we have a shuttle service that brings people out to the woods. Make sure that your volunteers all understand what’s going on. The zombies sometimes get competitive and see who can get the most flags, but it’s not a fun race if you get through the first half-mile and have no more flags because the zombies were too aggressive. We do a zombie training session before the race; some sprint, some crawl, and some don’t try to get a flag at all but just try to scare you. This year, we’re actually doing it on Halloween, [followed by] a Halloween party at the gym that night. It’ll be a long day, but everyone’s going to be talking about it and it’ll end up on social media.