I’m the kind of guy will sign up for any fun charitable event. I don’t need to have the slightest concern for the organization. I’ll find a few of my buddies and play golf, run in a race, you name it. I’ll pay the fee, take what I can in the way of a charitable deduction, and move on.
I’m the classic disconnected event-based donor.
I’m not even a donor. I’m a “user.” I just want to pay the entry fee and have fun. In most cases, they’d never hear from me again (unless the next golf outing or road race was on a convenient date, etc.).
But now I’ve learned three things:
1. It’s not rocket science for a nonprofit to engage a “disconnected” donor like me.
2. It’s also not rocket science to raise peer-to-peer money in amounts that most of us casual participants might consider unthinkable.
3. An individual – a regular guy, even me – can make a huge impact.
My favorite fitness activity is cycling, and in a good year, I’ll log maybe 3,000 miles on my bike. So when I saw that the American Diabetes Association had an event called Tour De Cure, it was a no-brainer for me.
Now, my closest friend or relative who has diabetes is my wife’s cousin’s son (I think that makes him my first cousin, once removed-in-law), who lives in a different state. I see him about once a year, and I was aware of his challenge to have a normal teenage life while managing diabetes. Still, it was not exactly an intimate connection to the disease. But the Tour De Cure event included the challenge of a 100-mile bike ride, plus a start/finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track, plus free food and all kinds of nice swag. I didn’t need any connection to the cause; the event looked fun enough that I signed up right away. I think the fee was only $25.
But I then learned that, on top of the registration fee, I had to raise a minimum of $200 to participate. So I set my goal at $200, kicked in a little more money of my own, and told a few people who I thought would care, including my wife’s cousin.
Well, before I knew what hit me, she (the cousin) gave me a hundred dollars, and so did her brother and her sister, and so did a few other people, and I was up to about $700. So I quickly reset my goal to $1,000, and after asking around a little bit, I eventually raised about $1200.
I was feeling all proud of myself about all this, and then I got a call on my cell phone from a woman who identified herself as Jennifer Pferrer, Executive Director of the Indiana ADA office. She called to personally thank me for my help. I thought, “wow, that really mattered!” That was in 2012. (Oh yeah, and I did complete the 100 mile ride, too.)
When Tour De Cure 2013 came around, I signed up right away, and promptly set my fundraising goal at (what now looks like a timid) $1,000. I set up a personal fundraising page (provided by ADA), used that to tell the story of my cousin once removed (whose name is Don), and sent that in an email (and link to my page) to a bunch of people in my contact list (maybe 150). I hit my goal in less than a week! And just as I was preparing to bask in my success, a friend of mine challenged me, saying, “You’re not going to just sit there now are you? You need to go for $2,000.”
Ugh, I thought. That sounds like work! But I was too proud to back down from his challenge. Besides, I knew he was right.
So I sent out some more email, bragged about my early success, told my friends we were making a difference for people like Don, and promptly got overwhelmed with their generosity. I eventually more than doubled my previous year’s fundraising total. After the event was over, I was invited to a little recognition breakfast meeting (just a little stand-up buffet thing which lasted less than an hour), where they honored their “champion” fundraisers. At breakfast, one of the ADA staffers asked me if I would be a “fundraising mentor” to help other riders raise money the way I did. I thought, holy cow! Not only am I helping, but they’re kind of depending on me! Everyone showered me with praise like I was some kind of hero, but I honestly didn’t have to work all that hard. I just asked.
Which brings us to 2014.
I set my goal at $2,000 (I know, that still looks a little timid). I asked one particular friend, named Phil (a fellow bike rider), for a donation. But instead of donating to me, he now wanted to ride in the event and start a fundraising team of his own. My potential donor was now an “accidental recruit” and also my competitor! I wound up setting a new personal fundraising record of $3500 anyway, and I turned out to be the #9 overall personal fundraiser in Indiana for ADA (out of 1400 participants). And Phil wound up raising even more than I did! He came in at #7 overall.
Between Phil and me, we accounted for over one percent of the entire $700,000 fundraising goal for the 2014 Tour De Cure, which includes a lot of major corporate sponsor dollars and a ton of money raised by the corporate cycling teams at big local employers like Eli Lilly and Rolls Royce. I had parlayed my $25 registration fee in 2012 into a truly meaningful contribution. Just think what we can do next year, if I can find one more guy like Phil to get on board!
All this started just a couple years ago with a “fun event.” It gained traction with just a little TLC that I got from the ADA staff. And it became downright inspiring when I realized how generous people become when you just ask. Getting “disconnected” event donors like me to become connected is not rocket science. And I found out that raising money from my peers was pretty easy, because I had a good story, and I just asked. I also found out that a regular guy, who signs up for your event on a lark, can become a real impact player.
Many nonprofits would have just accepted my donations and hoped that I signed up again the next year, and left maybe $7,500 on the table as a result. So be aware: every rank-and-file “participant” at your event can also be an impact player.