Road Runners Club of America

Growing the Sport of Running Since 1958

Start an Event

So you want to ​organize an event? While the RRCA does not provide race management services, we can help point you in the right direction to ​help you organize a 5k, a marathon, a half marathon or a race of any distance in your community. The information in this section will provide a basic overview of starting an event. For more in depth information, we encourage all race directors to purchase a copy of the book, Organizing Running Events: the Complete Guide to Staging a Road Race.  You can also consult with one of our many RRCA Certified Race Directors

When starting out, we highly recommend that you give yourself plenty of time to plan a safe event for participants and be realistic about how many people will sign up for a first-year race.  Just because you build it, doesn't mean 2,000 people will show up.  That is an unrealistic target for a first-year, unknown event.  With lots of planning, marketing, and ​the production a safe, well-organized event, you can build on the success of your first year to grow your event into a top-notch race in the coming years.

As an association of running clubs and events, the Road Runners Club of America outlines clear ethical conduct that we expect all race directors to follow in the deliver of event(s).  All RRCA members must attest to agreeing to the RRCA's Race Director Code of Ethics.  The RRCA does not dictate operating requirements to our members beyond requiring that all participants must sign waivers and all members must have general liability insurance coverage for their  events.  We do, however, offer the RRCA Guidelines to Safe Events that race directors are encouraged to adopt as rules or policies for their local events and activities.  For rules of competition, the RRCA encourages race directors to follow the USA Track & Field's rules of competition.

Determine Your Business Organization

The first thing you need to do is determine how your event will be organized from a business perspective. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to managing an event.  Will this be a running club owned and operated event? Are you a school or other nonprofit hosting an event as a fundraiser? Will you be a sole proprietor putting on a race to raise money for charity? Will you be putting on a race to simply make a profit for your race directing company?  Chances are you answered "yes" to one of these questions and we can help you organize your business structure properly.

What is a Nonprofit Event?

The designation of a race as a nonprofit has nothing to do with the contributions made to local charities by the race proceeds. The nonprofit designation of a race or a nonprofit club-managed event is determined by the business organization of that entity. A volunteer board of directors, (no less than three unrelated people) that does not profit personally from the event and that oversees the operations of the event is what defines the event as a nonprofit organization, along with the official designation from the IRS as a 501(c)3 organization or through the RRCA's group exemption with the IRS.

If an organization is a nonprofit, they are certainly entitled to retain net profits, compensate staff, or hire contractors, as needed, to run their nonprofit business or event. A race director may get paid for their services if a board of directors chooses this method of race management, so long as the race director or their immediate family is not a voting member of the board of directors, thus profiting from their relationship with the board. In recent years, event directors have gotten in trouble with the RRCA, their state's attorney generals, or departments of justice for profiting from nonprofit service and engaging in self-dealing for personal gain.

A race may choose to depend on the generosity of volunteers to make their business model work. Nonprofit management structures differ from event to event and utilize a mix of paid staff, contractors, and volunteers. However, all nonprofit events share a commonality, they have an independent, volunteer board of directors that does not profit personally from the eventRead more about working with charities and hosting fundraising events.

The “For-Profit” Difference

Often times the National Office receives calls where an individual wants to put on a race and donate all of the proceeds to charity. They say they are a "nonprofit," but donating proceeds is not what defines them as a nonprofit. These events are actually organized as for-profit LLCs or sole-proprietor organized events, and the gross receipts from the event may be subject to income tax regardless if all or a portion of the proceeds are donated to a charity.

If you are a for-profit race director organized as an LLC or a sole proprietor, you should not include a contribution line for a local charity on your registration form with the contributions going directly to your for-profit race company and noting that the contributions are tax-deductible.  If “contributions” are paid to the race company, these “contributions” are not tax deductible by the donor and may be taxable income for the race director. Only a correctly organized nonprofit organization can accept tax-deductible contributions for charitable purposes. For-profit race companies should have donors contribute directly to a local charity or commit to donating a portion of their net proceeds to charity, but be clear in your communications how registration fees will be expensed and contributions given to charity partners. Consider working with a fundraising portal like Good Done Great, or provide a direct link to your charity partners online giving pages.  This ensures contributions go directly to your partners and credit card processing fees will be limited if people give directly to the charity versus going through a third-party fundraising website.

Some race directing companies have created “foundations” as charitable organizations.  Due to fraud and abuse in the event industry, we DO NOT recommend this approach unless you have consulted with an attorney and can ensure that your for-profit company is not self-dealing or committing fraud through a nonprofit foundation. It is very important for these types of business structures to have a clear conflict of interest policy and operating procedures for the foundation. The foundation board of directors must ensure that the for-profit race directing company is not directly benefiting from the foundation in ways that are illegal or unethical.  The owner of the for-profit event company should not sit on the board of directors of the foundation as a voting member to avoid the perception that the for-profit company is self-dealing or improperly sheltering taxable income.

Planning Your Event

All phases of the event will benefit from adequate, advanced planning. In particular, the safety of the participants, volunteers and spectators can best be served by addressing the following matters well in advance of the race start date. Allow a minimum of 6–12 months advanced time to plan the event. In addition to the items listed below, you ​will need to devote time to obtaining race sponsors and ​promoting your event. It is important that you learn more about the various aspects of event planning. Closely review the RRCA Guidelines for Safe Events. Become an RRCA Certified Race Director to show your community you are serious about your event planning abilities and your commitment to safety and ethical conduct. 

The following briefly outlines the initial steps you need to take in planning your event:

  • Determine Your Event's Business Structure

    Once you've determined your business structure, join the RRCA to access our benefits and services for event members.

  • Date Selection

    Select several race date options, which do not conflict with other events in your area.

  • Site Selection

    Outline a suitable location for your event, taking parking, pre- and post-race activities, facilities, race course, and more into consideration.

  • Meet With Local Authorities

    Schedule your appoint with your local authorities and be prepared to present multiple date options and your event course plan.  Any required authorization from local authorities must be obtained long before the event date.  Learn more about the permitting process.

  • Finalize Your Course Design and Permit

    Finalize your course design based on feedback from your meeting with authorities.  Check back with the local authorities as you begin planning for the event to avoid any final permitting problems.

  • Insurance Coverage

    Secure general liability and participant accident insurance for your event EARLY in the planning process.  You may need proof of insurance before you can submit a permit application.  NEVER wait until the last minute to get your insurance for the event.  The RRCA will not issue insurance coverage for new events if you request coverage less than 10-days in advance.  This says to our organization that you have not done the proper planning to ensure a safe event, and we will not risk allowing your event to access the insurance program.

  • Select Key Race Personnel

    Outline key race personnel such as the medical director, the volunteer coordinator, the start and finish line coordinator and other people to assist you with the event. 

Continue to the Guidelines for Safe Event section >>

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