How to Organize a Color Run
Having exploded in popularity in recent years, and continuing to grow, color runs remain the undisputed king of the fun run.
So what is it about getting drenched in color powder that gets people so excited and how can you get a piece of the action by organizing your own color run event? Stick around - we're about to find out.
Color runs in a nutshell
Color runs have evolved a bit since the original first hit the market back in 2011, but the basic concept has remained pretty much the same:
- Get a bunch of people (the participants) to run around a course, typically 5k or smaller for kids courses, wearing a white shirt and cheap sunglasses
- Get another bunch of people (the event crew and volunteers) to sit in waiting every 1km or so to pelt them with color powder, typically a single color for every station
- Get everyone to finish in their own time and take plenty of selfies - then throw more color powder at each other
Key to the whole concept of the color run is having fun. So most runs are untimed events where there are no winners or medals awarded. Usually, the run itself is followed up with a music festival where participants get a full DJ music experience, as well as more opportunities to cover themselves in more color!
This sounds a bit like some people's worst nightmare. So why have color runs been so successful?
It's probably a number of factors:
- Color runs generally appeal to a much younger, and less competitive, audience than traditional races. That makes them a lot more accessible to a broader audience.
- They combine a fairly short run with a music festival and other fun happenings, making them much more than just a race.
- They offer an all-round amazing experience that participants can share with their friends - and something to post about on Instagram ;)
As we'll see later in this article, color runs have been picked up by both nonprofit and for-profit organizers for the excellent opportunities they offer for fundraising as well as commercial event management.
Organizing a color run: The basics
If you've never organized a mass-participation event before, there are a few things you should consider before even going into color-run specific advice, things like:
- Picking a name for your event that works and a date that makes sense
- Mapping out a course
- Building a team of people you can trust that will help you deliver the event
- Working out a budget etc etc
All of these and more tare covered in detail in our guide to organizing a 5k run. We won't repeat them here, but you should definitely check out our 5k guide before anything else.
In addition to all that, you should take a look at our race director checklists. Not all items there will be applicable for color runs (for example, you probably won't need to worry about timing). But these lists will serve you well before, during and after your event.
With those two as your foundation, let's look at those aspects of a color run that make this type of event fairly unique.
Making your color run FUN
Injecting your color run with a big dose of fun is a key priority as a color run organizer (well, safety and all the boring stuff being taken care of first, of course).
There are many things you can do for that - like:
- Make sure people wear white! Pretty important detail when it comes to color runs, otherwise color doesn't quite have the same impact. Either issue participants with your own simple white T-shirt (branded with your event logo and tagline, of course) or ask them to come dressed in white. That way, everyone goes home looking nice and colorful!
- Do a fun group warm-up before the run. Although the run starts at the start line, the event starts the minute people hit your venue. Do a group warm up with your DJ or announcer before the run starts to get people into the right mood and all fired-up to get going!
- Get a DJ at the start/finish line. This is an absolute must if you're following up your run with a music festival (which highly recommended, if you have the resources).
- Do one or more color tosses/countdowns. The color countdown (also known as a color toss) is one of those features the original Color Run introduced where all the finishers count down to a huge color powder toss (see image below). The whole thing is quite fun and pretty spectacular and a picture-perfect promo shot for your event. So try to do at least one of those, if not more.
You probably have a lot of questions about the kinds of powders that are used in color runs. So it's important you know a bit about what you're getting into.
You may also find color powders described online as Holi powder, as these powders are also widely used in Hindu Holi festivals. These are the exact same thing you'd use in a color run.
The vast majority of color powders currently being marketed for use in color runs are based on corn starch. From that point of view, these powders are similar to starch paints used in trail marking, so they are non-toxic and can be easily dissolved in (and removed by) water.
That said, although these powders are normally colored with FDA-approved food dyes (or equivalent, depending on your country), you are strongly advised to take note of the following:
- Never throw powder at participants' faces directly. Always instruct your crews to aim below the neck. These powders may not be toxic, but they are basically the equivalent of inert dirt. And no one likes having dirt thrown in their face, do they?
- Encourage participants to wear sunglasses or goggles. This will lessen the effects of the powder on the eyes and probably make everyone look a little bit cooler in the process! Here's some cheap sunglasses you can buy in bulk from Amazon at less than $1 a pair.
- Instruct participants to avoid breathing in powder. A small amount is ok, but repeat and prolonged inhalation will cause irritation and possibly even worse. Where possible, ask participants to use a buff or similar to cover their mouths (Color Run includes a branded buff in their race kit that people can use as a mouth cover). It's also probably best to discourage people with asthma from joining.
As mentioned earlier, starch-based color powders are water-soluble, so whatever powder can't be dusted off (or blown off with the help of a leaf blower), people should be able to wash off with a vigorous shower. Even if stains persist, particularly in hair, they too should come off within a couple of days.
The powder should also wash off clothes and shoes quite easily, but just to be on the safe side, ask your participants not to come wearing their Gianni Versace whites! If some of your participants actually want to keep the stains on their white shirts as a souvenir, they can do so by spraying the stained clothes with vinegar and ironing, before putting them into the wash.
Cleaning up after your color run
One of the more common questions from potential color run organizers is cleaning up after the event.
Actually, that's not as big a deal as it may seem. First, make sure you sweep away as much of the powder as you can from the course. This is dry powder so you should be able to sweep most of it same way as you would with dirt or dust.
If powder remains, you can follow up with a good hosing of your course. Rain will do this for you, but if you've got none forecast after your event, you can do it yourself with a bucket of water and a broom or - even better - a power hose.
Promoting your color run
Promoting a color run is a lot like promoting any type of run. In that regard, going through our super-comprehensive race promotion guide is a good place for you to start.
Because, however, color runs are a lot more popular with younger audiences and a lot more "visual" than most other running events, there's some additional tips you should take onboard:
- Go big on Instagram. We don't actually talk a lot about Instagram in our race promotion guide, mostly because your typical race would do better being promoted on Facebook. But in the case of color runs, Instagram is a key channel. You should set yourself up on it and shift a good chunk of your ad budget and organic marketing effort there.
- Use eye-catching visuals. That's true of any event, but, again, more important in the case of a color run. Let colors and happy faces do your marketing for you. If this is your first event, use some free stock images from places like Pixabay to get your promotion going before shooting your own.
- Use viral marketing. People usually sign up for color runs and other fun runs in groups. So use incentives and other online promotions to get your participants to do your marketing for you by referring friends and family to your run.
- Come up with a hashtag and use it everywhere. The Color Run has #Happiest5k. Make up your own. Then add it absolutely everywhere: to your website, social media posts, on your event bibs, T-shirts - everywhere! Make sure every person in your event knows that's the tag to use when posting anything about your event online.
- Hire a professional photographer. Goes back to the point about focusing on quality visual content. For your first run, make sure you hire a professional photographer and think about giving away the images for free to your participants. They will appreciate that a lot and give your race tons of exposure by sharing the images online. And that's your next year's marketing done for you!
Getting sponsors for your color run
Color runs can be a sponsor's dream come true. But finding the right sponsors that match your participant demographic is key.
Thankfully, there's plenty of examples out there of the kinds of sponsors that tend to take an interest in color runs. These are brands which are extrovert, probably newer to the market, trying to make a name for themselves, and definitely brands with products or services aimed at a younger audience.
So where should you look for good sponsorship candidates? Try the following:
- Fitness class brands and fitness studios: Go with whatever is the trending class or fitness program of the day, ideally something that also shares a fun, social or experiential element that would resonate with your color run participants (one of The Color Run's main sponsors, F45, is one such brand). Fancy gym concepts also come under this category.
- Consumer electronics: Sports headphones/earphones, portable speakers, sports smart watches and other sports wearables all are a perfect match for your color run audience.
- Fancy new drinks/food concepts: Exotic energy bars, infused waters, whatever might be the new thing on the market that could use the onsite sampling, social engagement and brand feedback your event can provide.
- Coffee shops: Ok, maybe it'll take a bit of time to land Starbucks as your official coffee sponsor, like The Color Run did, but you can still work to get a local coffee shop or chain onboard as your event's coffee sponsor. Perhaps an exciting new bakery concept as well.
How about matching sponsors to color stations, and even naming color stations after your sponsor's business or brand? For example, you could match your blue color station with a sponsor whose logo is blue and name that station after them. This will help incorporate your sponsor's brand directly into your participants' event experience and make your sponsorship offering a lot more appealing.
Apart from cash sponsorship, there's much you can do to cut costs and improve the overall profitability of your event through in-kind sponsorship. This can mean anything from sponsors providing the materials and services you will need for your race to contributing directly towards your purchase of race supplies.
For more ideas on seeking and converting in-kind sponsors, check out our in-kind sponsorship guide.
Making the most of your festival area
Part of the massive appeal of color runs to younger audiences is the combination of running with other post-run activities. Which is why many color runs follow up the run with a festival in and around the finish area.
Your festival can be a great opportunity for your event to develop an additional revenue stream while enhancing the overall event experience for participants. And although putting on a festival will add to some of your event costs (DJ hire, barriers, more volunteers are just a few examples), the potential is there to increase your overall event bottom line - by a lot.
In terms of things you could bring to your festival that will help raise your event revenue, there's some tried-and-tested ideas that are sure to work for any event:
- Food trucks, snack bars and other food & drink vendors: Burger vans, trendy veggie stalls, beer tents will all go down very well with your hungry/thirsty finishers. Reach out to food trucks and event catering businesses in your area and get them to come out to your event in exchange for a cut on sales or a fixed fee.
- Apparel brands and other stores: Try bringing some boutique clothing and accessory brands to your festival area. They don't have to be fitness-related, but they need to be appealing to the younger (and mostly female) audience of your color run. Strike commission deals with them or try to entice business owners with introductory rates so they will give your event a try.
- Photo opportunities: Set up a selfie frame or a photo centerpiece your participants can take pictures with at the festival area - and charge a small amount for them to do so. Remember, color runs are all about the pictures so find a way to appeal to that need in your festival. (Do you have a charity or event mascot? That's your photo centerpiece!)
- Your own merchandise store: Sell additional color bags, event-branded soft toys, witty T-shirts and other souvenirs in your own merchandise stall. Offer a T-shirt pressing service to help participants stamp color stains on their T-shirts. On the the end, sell baby wipes and even disposable ponchos for people who haven't thought about getting in their car all covered up in color powder!
Organizing a color run fundraiser
Because of their fun nature, color runs make excellent fundraisers, whether it's raising money for a school fund, cause or charity.
You can add a fundraising element to your color run in two ways:
- By adding a donation amount to the color run registration fee. That way, a portion of the registration fee is guaranteed to go directly to supporting your cause (make sure the remaining part can cover up all your event expenses though!)
- By setting up donations/pledges pages for registered participants. By enabling each participant to raise funds through donations from friends and family, you are greatly increasing the pool of people that can contribute to your event's fundraising pot.
Ideally, you'd want to do both: participants contribute something to the cause through their registration fee and then help fundraise further through pledges/donations on their personal fundraising page.
If you do enable crowd-fundraising (option 2), you should definitely consider signing up with a fundraising platform. These platforms will help your participants create their own personal fundraising pages with all raised funds (net of platform and payment processing fees) going to your nominated event bank account. It's well worth it and will help your fundraising go a lot further.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I offer timing in my color run?
You can, but most color runs don't. People don't take part in color runs for the time. They do it for the experience.
Can I call my run "Color Run"?
You definitely can't call it The Color Run, as that is trademarked by the original color run organizer. Various other names, like Color Dash, have also been trademarked by other events, so make sure you check your preferred name doesn't get you into trouble.
What if it rains during my run?
That shouldn't be a problem. Washing up will be a bit trickier for participants, but you may get a self-cleaning course, which is great!
How much color powder will I need?
Between the color you'll need for your color stations and the powder bags you'll give participants for color tosses, you'll probably need between 1/2 and 1 lb per participant, based on a 3oz cup throw per participant per station. But do check with your color powder supplier, they'd be able to provide a much better estimate.
Where can I buy color powder for my run?
There's lots of places you can buy color powder online (also called Holi powder). You can find a range of specialist color powder products at great prices on Color Blaze, or even check out Amazon, if that's easier for you.
Wherever you end up getting your color powder from, make sure the powder you buy is food-grade, FDA-approved (or similar) and non-toxic.