While the winter makes many people hide away indoors, polar bear plunge fundraisers are a unique and fun way to bring supporters out for a great cause. Supporters of polar plunges raise funds or pledges and then take the plunge into frigid or icy waters to raise awareness for a charitable cause. One of the most appealing reasons to host a polar plunge is that it attracts quite the attention from the media and local community. Just take a look at Project Sweet Peas’ Plunge for Preemies, as their polar bear plunge fundraiser is just about to plunge into the eighth successful year.
Here are ten simple steps to plan your own polar bear plunge fundraiser:
1. Find a Polar Plunge Location and Decide on Date and Time
Ideally, find a centrally located beachside or lakeside where you can allow supporters to wade or take a dip into the cold water. A site would also be ideal if it has ample space to set up on-site entertainment (such as live music performances), service stations and media coverage. Once you find your location, be sure to contact the managing entity, whether it is managed by the city, town or other municipality, to obtain any necessary permits for hosting a special event. Be sure to leave room for several months to allow for the permit application to be reviewed and processed before the event. Once in communication with the organization that manages the property, inquire if there are any additional logistical considerations. This may include whether a lifeguard can be supplied or if a pass is required by participants to be allowed in the area during the off-season.
When choosing the date and time of your event, consider whether this event should be associated with a certain holiday. The benefit of having a special holiday fundraiser is that it is easy to remember if the event is repeated annually. It also tends to draw a larger, more festive crowd of event participants that like to sport holiday gear. You can even include a costume contest as part of the pre-event festivities. The plunge could be scheduled on or around Christmas, New Year’s Day, President’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day.
Plunges typically start mid-day (around noontime) to allow for additional activities to follow, such as an after party at a local establishment. Space out the schedule to allow time for pre-event registration, adequate time to do the plunge, get warmed up and then the celebratory activities after.
2. Determine Your Fundraising Goal
Determining the fundraising goal will help decide other important factors of the event. These include the registration type, whether it will be a flat registration fee or if participants will raise donations via a non-profit crowdfunding event. Another factor to consider is how many participants will be targeted to achieve the goal. Include the costs that must be covered to successfully execute the event when determining the fundraising goal. These costs may include marketing and promotional costs, preparing participant packets, service station items and more. See our fundraising event budget ideas to get started.
3. Seek Sponsorship Support
Reach out to local businesses for potential sponsorship support for the polar plunge fundraiser. While monetary donations are ideal, in-kind donations and services are also helpful to reduce costs for your cause. Some in-kind donations and services would include the following:
- Warm Beverages (i.e. hot chocolate, hot tea and coffee)
- Service Tents
- Printed T-Shirts, Sweaters, Knit Caps
- Gift Bag/Participant Goodie Bag Items
- Hand Warmers
- Business Vouchers/Coupons
4. Implement Fundraising Software
Using the best fundraising software not only helps you register participants and sponsors easily, but also helps with organizing many aspects of the plunge. DoJiggy’s event management software offers the following features:
- Easy-to-Use, Mobile Responsive Interface
- Customizable Registration Fees
- Real-Time Reporting Tools
- Centralized Communication Tools for Participants, Volunteers and Sponsors
- Sponsorship Management
- Helpful Event Marketing Tools
Polar bear plunges lend themselves well to peer-to-peer fundraising, since they are such a fun and unique event that your participants will want to share on social media and with their social networks. Why not add a fundraising component where your plungers raise money for your cause? If your organization wants to allow your participants to create a personal fundraising page to share on social media sites, you’ll need our peer-to-peer crowdfunding software.
5. Plan Marketing Collateral
Once all the prior steps are in place, you’re ready to begin designing the marketing/promotional collateral for the event. This may include an event logo, event flyer, social media and website banners, t-shirt designs and more. Check out popular plunges, such as the Special Olympics plunge, to see how they market the event.
Here are some helpful details to include on the flyer:
- Time and Date
- Registration Details
- Registration Website
- Contact Details for More Information
- Cause or Organization Receiving Proceeds
- Major Sponsors
6. Recruit Plungers
A polar bear plunge fundraiser is a fun event for many participants, far and wide. Begin with reaching out to family and friends for participants as well as your organization’s donor and supporter database. You can even encourage teams to be formed for an added competitive edge. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to local celebrities and well-known names (business owners, newscast, school staff, etc.). While many may be hesitant to join, recognizable participants taking the plunge will draw a larger crowd that wants to see the action.
Another great source of participants is from media coverage. Prepare a press release and send it out to local newspaper and TV stations to cover the story, both to solicit participants or cover the event live. Also, local event listings serve as another channel to attract participants and spectators.
7. Finding Vendors for the Service Stations
After seeking in-kind sponsorships for your event, you’ll likely still find outstanding items that need to be purchased. These may be items for the participant goodie bags and the concession stand. Research local vendors on finding the best quality and cost in supplying hot beverages, beverage dispensers, service tents, towels, blankets and accessories for participants (t-shirts, sweat shirts, fitted caps, etc.). Also, once the registration for new participants is closed, discuss the turnaround time with the vendors to assure that the delivered goods will be available in time for the event.
8. Location Layout for Stations
Determine the location and layout of your plunge stations. The following stations should be considered:
- Registration Station: Participants should begin at this starting point to check-in, turn in any donations, receive their participant packet, sign a waiver (this can also be completed upon online registration) and be given instructions for the polar plunge.
- Concession Station: After participants have taken the plunge, they can head to the concession stand for towels, blankets, hot beverages and snacks.
- Emergency Aid Station: Always keep in mind the sober reality of this type of event: participants are taking a plunge into frigid waters that can be lower than 40℉. A volunteer medical team should be onsite and available to aid anyone who may experience shock or any other injuries. Lifeguards should also be available to aid anyone that may have any trouble getting out of the waters. Be prepared!
- Entertainment: Sometimes a little something extra can add to the enjoyment of the event. Many events have bands or performers throughout the event. If you have entertainment available, have a dedicated space for them to set-up and perform.
9. Gather a Strong Volunteer Team
Now that you’ve determined all of the stations necessary to execute a successful polar plunge, be sure to perform outreach for volunteers to be able to staff each station accordingly. Registration and concession stands can use volunteers young and old and varied in skills. Volunteers in the emergency aid station should be certified, skilled and experienced. Reaching out to EMTs, nurses or doctors for charitable contributions of their time and skills may be helpful. As for the waiver, if the organization does not have a legal advisor, see if you can receive pro-bono assistance to draft the waiver. The waiver is especially important as this will clarity that participants are aware of the risks for their participation and do not hold your organization liable if anything should occur.
10. Take the Plunge!
Once the day of the event has arrived, break out your swimsuit and trunks and get ready to plunge into the waters for a good cause! As the event wraps up, don’t forget to send your thank-yous to the participants, volunteers and sponsors for their support. Send pictures and let them know how much money was raised.