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A short history of the walkathon

Today, the walkathon is a staple of peer-to-peer fundraising worldwide. But did you know that the first ever walkathon was crafted in 1953 by Puerto Rican actor and comedian Ramon Ortiz Del Rivero, better known by his stage name “Diplo”?

Ramon Ortiz Del Rivero, aka “Diplo”

Rivero’s walk took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico where he walked 80 miles for the Puerto Rican League Against Cancer. In this walkathon, Rivero raised the equivalent of $85,000 in only 4 days. The successful event turned into a historical occasion that became a part of the collective consciousness of Puerto Ricans around the world.

Likewise, over a decade later, in 1968, the first walkathon was held on the US mainland and was sponsored by the American Freedom from Hunger Foundation. The walkathon drew over 3,000 walkers to the 33-mile route through the streets of Minneapolis with the majority of walkers being children. The local organizers convinced comedian Johnny Carson to promote the event.

A couple of years later, on May 8, 1971, Church World Service held what was the largest American coordinated walkathon to date, called Crop Hunger Walk (which is now hosted on the RallyBound platform). Crop Hunger Walks are community walks sponsored and organized by local congregations or specific organizations dedicated to raise funds to end hunger in the US and around the world. In the first set of Crop Hunger Walks, 150,000 American walkers on over a dozen routes nationwide walked over 2 million miles, raising over $1.2 million to fight hunger. Crop Hunger Walks have been held ever since, making it the longest annual walk series in the US. Shortly after, the walkathon concept caught on with other organizations, and countless nonprofits soon adopted walkathons as a major, if not primary, fundraising source.

The first single-walk event to raise over $1 million took place in 1985. In the mid-80s, Boston fundraising consultant Steven Biondolillo came up with the idea of  workplace enlistment for walk participants, which helped A Walk for Hunger in Boston, Massachusetts reach the $1 million mark

Also launched in the 1980’s were AIDS Walks, which today includes the largest single-walk event in the world in NYC (and which is one of the number of AIDS Walks powered by RallyBound). In all, AIDS Walks have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to support the fight against HIV/AIDS.

According to Guinness World Records,the world’s largest walkathon, in terms of participants, was held by Iglesia Ni Cristo, a religious organization based in the Philippines on February 15, 2014 in Manila to benefit Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan survivors. The 1.9 kilometer charity walk had 175,509 participants in Manila alone, and over half a million worldwide in a span of 24 hours.

Obviously, these events have come a long way since the first walk by Ramon Ortiz Del Rivero. Today, millions of people worldwide take part in walkathons annually, and they are still one of the primary avenues for nonprofit peer-to-peer fundraising.


Also published on Medium.