The Journey to Establishing a Non-profit Running Club

March 7, 2024

Local running clubs bring together communities of athletes with a shared passion for the sport. One club in Arizona is elevating its runners’ experience by not only fostering an inspiring environment, but also supporting philanthropies and small businesses in the broader Phoenix area. Team Injinji Athlete Trevor Davenport created the San Tan Trail Runners club after transitioning to remote work and seeking an outlet for activity and connection. Follow along as he shares his journey and insights into his motivation for establishing a non-profit.

The San Tan Trail Runners club wearing reflective vests during a trail cleanup project.The San Tan Trail Runners club wearing reflective vests during a trail cleanup project.

Please introduce us to your non-profit, San Tan Trail Runners (STTR).  

The San Tan Trail Runners is one of the few non-profit running and outdoor-focused clubs in the Phoenix, AZ area. Established as a 501(c)3 in 2019, the club welcomes runners, hikers, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts alike to join in staying active, organizing philanthropic opportunities, supporting local small-business partners, and being trustworthy stewards of all local and state natural resources. 

What inspired you to start STTR?  

I worked 100% from home after moving to Arizona in 2007 and needed a social and physical outlet to help keep me motivated and sane! As the social media presence of the group started to grow, and more members joined, it was obvious that if we wanted legitimacy in the community, we would need to evolve to non-profit status to make more meaningful contributions. 

Establishing a non-profit is a significant undertaking! Can you walk through how STTR was formed? Were there any challenges you faced throughout the process? 

From the start, it was important to identify a steering committee of people who were invested in making the club successful. This group was responsible for (1) researching what Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) could provide, (2) establishing the core values and mission of the club, (3) editing club by-laws and other documents, and finally (4) establishing the board of directors.

The steering committee met over the course of six months to formalize all the state, federal, and RRCA non-profit requirements along with other club resources like accounting, social media, website, and marketing tools.

The biggest learning from this process was to ‘be patient’. Not only is there a lot of busy work, but the leadership and collaboration required to get through this period of exploration and creation ultimately sets the tone for the club itself. 

A county road sign that says "Adopted by the San Tan Trail Runners"A county road sign that says "Adopted by the San Tan Trail Runners"
A person with a cart full of non perishable food donated by the San Tan Trail Runners club.A person with a cart full of non perishable food donated by the San Tan Trail Runners club.

How did your partnership with the RRCA come about?  

The San Tan Trail Runners is a subsidiary organization under RRCA’s group exemption with the IRS. Through this relationship, STTR can take advantage of (and apply) their policies, insurance and basic guidelines to the club and activities. 

What is your best advice for those looking to start a non-profit running club? What do you wish you knew sooner?  

The key advice I’d share with anyone looking to start a non-profit running club is to ensure you find a group of people who share your enthusiasm, passion, and dedication for developing not only the club but the community. They are key in doing the work to get the club up and running (pun intended!), but they also represent the core values and spirit of the club out in the community. They are your best recruiters!

In the beginning, there were SO many great ideas and we wanted to do everything! Having healthy expectations about how much a new club can accomplish is vital to keeping the momentum going. Encouraging new ideas and activities is critical for continued engagement, but recognizing that everyone also has personal and professional commitments outside the club means it’s important to prioritize ideas and ensure that quality over quantity is a central theme early on. As the saying goes, starting a non-profit is a marathon, not a sprint! 

Building a community is often a crucial aspect of running clubs. How have you fostered a sense of community within STTR?  

Fundamentally, the club is publicly open to anyone who wants to join. STTR has regularly scheduled no-drop group runs each week that are open to athletes of all ages and experience levels. Post-run social hours are vital in getting to know everyone and building a sense of belonging. It’s truly a judgment-free safe zone where folks can escape the rigors of life for a bit. The club also coordinates volunteer and philanthropic events around the community. Things like food drives, trail work, or packing meals help to keep us humble and thankful for what we have. Local running stores and small businesses have been gracious enough to offer our members discounts and other benefits.

The club also has merchandise available for purchase – clothing, hats, and swag that both promote the club and provide a small monetary income that helps fund community projects and philanthropic activities. 

The San Tan Trail Runners posing together with a giant charitable check. The San Tan Trail Runners posing together with a giant charitable check.

What has been the most notable achievement or milestone that STTR has reached since its inception?  

The most notable thing about the San Tan Trail Runners is the collective and ongoing difference we’re making in the community.

Whether this is adopting a section of road from the county and cleaning up trash, the 30+ hours of trail cleanup at San Tan Mountain Regional Park, the nearly $3,000 donated to under-privileged cross-country/track programs, or the hundreds of pounds of non-perishable goods donated to local food banks – we are using our resources and leveraging our members and their athleticism for positive change throughout the community. 

What are your goals for STTR for the rest of 2024?  

STTR’s primary goal this year is to finalize a key partnership with the largest park system here in Maricopa County. This will significantly help us grow both our membership and philanthropic reach throughout the broader Phoenix area. 

If you could pick one pair of Injinji socks to wear for all runs with STTR, which one would it be and why?  

The Trail Midweight Mini-Crew has been my go-to for a long time, but I’m currently hooked on the colors, designs, and versatility of all the Crew height socks. I have a hard time choosing between the Trail Midweight Crew, Ultra Run Crew, and Artist Designed Crew socks!

The growth of the San Tan Trail Runners club exemplifies how running clubs can go beyond hitting the trails and can give back to the community in ways that leave a lasting impact.