Most charity runs and walks have a ‘no dogs allowed’ policy. Not so at the Southwestern Guide Dogs walkathons, a series of walking events in Florida that raise money for the organization.
“It’s wonderful to see people bringing their dogs to these events,” says Andy Kramer, the development director of the Palmetto, FL-based nonprofit that has trained hundreds of guide dogs. “You can’t help but see families with their dogs and not smile.”
At each of the nine events held during the summer, Kramer says, the organization’s guide dog trainers are also invited to bring their puppies and current trainee dogs to the event. The puppies, which Kramer calls “Goldadorables,” are a special cross breed of Labradors and Golden Retrievers. “This breed produces wonderful guide dogs that are able to form and nurture partnership with visually impaired individuals, facilitating their life’s journeys with mobility, independence and integrity,” he says.
Promotional items play a major part in the Southeastern Guide Dogs Walkathons, starting with fundraising awards. “For example, if someone raises $100 for an event, they get a monogrammed T-shirt,” Kramer says, “$250 gets you a branded tumbler. In addition, every attending dog gets a logoed bandana and we also bring lots of branded promotional items from our gift shop, including hats, shirts and leashes, for sale at our events.”
This year’s events raised a whopping $835,000 for the charity – a new record.
The Guide Dog Walkathons are expanding to two new locations next year. “We’ve been able to grow new events in markets where we are not as well-known via grass roots fundraising campaigns that net us more friends and sponsors and help us provide more dogs to the visually impaired,” Kramer says. “Recently, Publix and Subaru came on board, which shows that success breeds success.”
Also on tap for the 2016 season: Participants will be invited to design the logoed T-shirts that will be used as event giveaways. “We work really hard to build excitement for these events each year, and the promotional products we incorporate really help do that,” Kramer says.
These picturesque events run through the sacred homeland of the Lakota Sioux, starting at Rochford, South Dakota and ending in the historic town of Deadwood. "Great scenery and an opportunity to tie in the runs with a vacation in the beautiful Black Hills make it a family-friendly venue," says race director Emily Wheeler of Rapid City-based Wheeler Events Management. "We had a fantastic turnout for this year's runs with over 3,400 registrations from 44 states, Canada and as far away as New Zealand."
A wide selection of branded products including hats, hoodies, shirts, badges and jackets helped make the marathons a success. "Our most popular promotional items were quarter-zip jackets emblazoned with the race logos," says Wheeler. "These are something for the racers to take back home with them and wear as a memory of the event. Participating moms and dads also bought jackets and shirts for their children."
According to Wheeler, the Half Marathon garnered the most entries, "because it's obviously shorter and mostly downhill which makes it attractive for folks who want to compete but aren't able to put in as much training time." Wheeler also sponsors the Run Crazy Horse event in October where runners end their journey at the giant hand of the fabled Crazy Horse Monument. This event features unique promotional items such as branded horse tank and shooter shirts.