Early in the year, I decided that in 2013, I would try to raise $1000 for three different cancer organizations in conjunction with my three biggest races of the year. First, I ran for the ROC at the Publix Georgia Half Marathon back in March and had AMAZING success with that fundraiser, ultimately raising $1513. Coming off of that high, I thought that my second fundraiser, my #Run4Results for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) in conjunction with the Peachtree Road Race 10k would be just as successful. However, that fundraiser just never took off the way I had hoped that it would. In the end, I was only able to raise $205. For my third fundraiser of the year, the #Run4Results, which I launched a week ago and which benefits the American Cancer Society, I wanted to make sure that I do everything I can to recreate the magic of my #Run4ROC rather than repeating my less than successful #Run4Research. To that end, I’m going to take some time here to hash through what I think were the major lessons of the #Run4Research fundraiser that kind of wasn’t.
Lesson 1 – It Takes Time, Time, Time
I launched the #Run4Research on June 17th. The Peachtree Road Race was on July 4th. That means that even though I planned to continue the fundraiser for a few weeks post-race (and, in fact, you can still make a donation here if you’d like!), I really only gave myself three weeks before the race to generate awareness of my fundraiser and pull in donations. Then I went and developed a killer infected tooth that required an emergency root canal about a week before the Peachtree. Honestly, with as much pain as I was in, I was just not in the right mental state to be promoting my fundraiser. At that point, I was hurting so much, I wasn’t even sure how well I was going to run. Ultimately, I promoted my fundraiser for about a week, let it falter for a week and a half, tried to pump it again right before the race, and then kind of gave up when the donations just weren’t there.
So the lessons here? Give myself more time, both before AND after the race. I know from my years with the Breast Cancer 3 Day that people need time to hear about your effort and decide to donate. Sometimes they want to save more to make a bigger donation. Some people like to wait for pay day or the next time they pay bills. Some people just plain forget. Plus, things are going to come up on my end (like that toothache) and I need to be prepared for that. So this time around, I gave myself a full month before the race to raise awareness of my #Run4Results (which is probably still not quite enough) and I’m committing myself to continuing to promote this cause for a full two weeks post-race as well. With the #Run4ROC, I got the majority of my donations in the week after my big race because seeing my tweets and Facebooks posts and Instagrams from the race reminded them to donate. I’m sure if I hadn’t gotten discouraged and basically given up, I could’ve pulled in some more donations immediately after the Peachtree as well. So – more time pre-race to raise awareness and more time post-race to let people make their donations.
Lesson 2 – Just Like Training, Consistency is Key!
I already touched on this, but I was just NOT consistent in promoting my #Run4Research. I would tweet and Facebook about it regularly for a few days, and then completely go silent for days. In this era of social media, you have to say something repeatedly and then say it again if you want it to stick. There are just too many other things vying for people’s attention. If I don’t mention my fundraiser in some capacity on a regular-to-constant basis, people who have every intention of donating will forget. I’m guilty of this as well – I see fundraisers that others are doing and think “I should donate to so-and-so’s fundraiser!” and then completely forget when I don’t see constant reminders. So – consistency, consistency, consistency. Look for lots of posts, tweets, Facebooks, Instagrams, emails, whatever. It’s coming!
Lesson 3 – Move Beyond Social Media
All of my most successful fundraisers have included one key element – I sent out fundraising letters through both email and snail mail. Heck, my parents used to make me write a letter about why their co-workers should buy my Girl Scout cookies before they would take the order form in to work. I have been writing fundraising letters and distributing them in any way I could think of since I was a tiny person. So, what did I NOT make time to do for the #Run4Research? Yeah, I never sent any fundraising letters. No emails and definitely no snail mail. I tried to do everything through social media and it didn’t work. I also didn’t bother to try to plan any other type of fundraiser either. No raffles, no contests, no events. I can’t say that I will have time to plan any big fundraising events for my #Run4Results, but I AM going to get back to what I know works the best for me – those fundraising letters. I just can’t expect everyone to come to my social media sites and make donations. I need to bring my cause to them. If I want my friends and family to go to the extra effort to support me, I need to go the extra mile to ask them directly.
Lesson 4 – Connect the Dots
And by connect the dots, I mean two things: I need to draw the connection between what I’m doing (running until my legs feel like spaghetti) and what I’m asking them to do (donate, donate, DONATE!) and I need to highlight my connection to the organization that I’m fundraising for. Let’s take each of these in pieces, starting with the second one.
When I set out to accomplish my three big races/three big fundraisers plan, I spent a lot of time deciding which organizations I wanted to fundraise for. I knew that I wanted my organizations of choice to be cancer organizations, and I wanted at least one of them to be explicitly a breast cancer organization. I wanted reputable organizations with solid track records of doing good work. I wanted at least one organization to focus primarily on research because I’m a research scientist and I wholeheartedly believe that research is our silver bullet to ending cancer forever. I wanted there to be some structure for running a fundraiser on behalf of each organization to already be in place. And I wanted to stay away from Komen, not because I don’t support them (because I obviously do) but because I’ve focused almost exclusively on them in the past and knowing the growing public fatigue towards Komen, I wanted to use my efforts to spotlight other organizations. So that is how I landed on my three organizations: the ROC (my mom’s oncology center), BCRF (a breast cancer foundation focused primarily on research), and the American Cancer Society (highly effective and diverse organization with a great structure in place for the fundraiser).
For the #Run4ROC, I had to put in a little extra effort to get the fundraiser itself set up since there wasn’t really a model already in place. However, my connection to the organization I was fundraising for was readily apparent. My mom has been getting her treatments at the ROC since 2007 and they have been tremendous to us. Many of my potential donors also had friends and/or family who had been treated there and those that didn’t wanted to extend their gratitude to the staff there for taking such excellent care of my mom. I didn’t have to work very hard to sell people on why donating to their capital campaign was a great thing to do.
For the #Run4Research, though, I over-estimated both the general awareness of BCRF AND the trust that folks had in them. A lot of the big breast cancer organizations have been hit pretty hard in the press lately and they are all feeling the pinch because of it. While I know that BCRF isn’t perfect, they are a VERY good organization. And they do put their money where their mouths are – in 2012, they donated 91 cents of every dollar raised to breast cancer research. In promoting my fundraiser, though, I never really made it clear why I had chosen them. This should have been an easy sell – I was a biomedical research scientist and I’m currently a public health research scientist. If I can’t sell people on the importance of funding research (especially under sequestration when federal funding for research is super tight!), then no one can. And somehow, I failed to make that connection. I can’t expect my potential donors to do the leg work to research an organization they’re not familiar with. I need to be the one to do the leg work and bring the facts to them if I want them to donate, especially since this was my second fundraiser of the year.
And speaking of leg work – I also think I need to draw the connection between my running and my fundraising a little better. With the 3 Day, it was fairly easy to draw that line – if I didn’t reach my fundraising minimum, I didn’t get to walk. I had skin in the game to make my fundraising successful, as it were. With the fundraisers I’m doing this year, that isn’t the case. I was running the Publix Half Marathon whether my #Run4ROC fundraiser was a success or not and I was running the Peachtree regardless of what happened with my #Run4Research. I tried to connect my fundraiser to my running by suggesting amounts for people to donate (like donations per mile or per minute of time), but I’m not sure that worked as well as I’d have liked.
For me, the connection between my running and my fundraising is this: I’m working HARD to prepare for this race. Because of social media and email and all of that, I can draw as much attention to my training efforts as I want (Hey! I ran 12 miles on Saturday!). And in drawing attention to my training efforts (Did I mention it was HOT when I ran 12 miles?!), I hope that I can take that little spotlight I’ve claimed for myself (TWELVE MILES!), and redirect it onto a cause that needs as much of a spotlight as it can get (How about a $12 donation for my twelve miles?). I’m not delusional here – I know that I don’t have the clout (or even Klout) of a celebrity when it comes to drawing attention to a cause or an organization that I care about. But through this blog, my many years volunteering for breast cancer organizations, and my personal experience as a researcher, I think I’ve built a little bit of credibility when it comes to highlighting organizations worth supporting. And, well, I’m really good at being loud. If I can use my loud voice and my legs to draw attention to a cause that matters deeply to me, I’m going to do it. I think I just need to make that more clear in my fundraising efforts!
Translating the Lessons to Action
So given all that, here’s what I’m going to do differently to make my #Run4Results just as successful as my #Run4ROC:
1. Start earlier and stick it out longer. The AllState 13.1 Half Marathon is on October 6th. I’ve already started raising awareness for my #Run4Results and I’m committed to keep it up for at least six weeks – four weeks pre-race and two weeks post-race.
2. Promote my fundraiser and highlight my efforts towards it more consistently. I’ve already been highlighting all of the training that I’m doing to prepare for this race in my weekly training posts. I’m also going to start including a brief fundraising update in each of those posts as well as dedicated fundraising updates every two weeks. I’ve also got at least three posts planned over the next four weeks highlighting the great work of the American Cancer Society. Which brings me to action item #3….
3. Highlight the great work of the American Cancer Society. I chose them for my third fundraiser for a reason. I’m going to use this blog to tell you why.
4. Send out fundraising letters. I’m planning to send out one set in the next week or so and one set in the week immediately following the race. I’m going to send primarily emails but I’m also going to use snail mail to reach some family members who aren’t as comfortable navigating the online world (aka: my grandmother!).
It’s going to take a bit more commitment to make this fundraiser a success than in the past but I’m ready to give it the same time and effort that I’m giving to my training. After all, while all this sweaty running might draw some eyeballs, it’s the donations that will ultimately lead us to a cure (or cures!) for cancer.
Please consider supporting me in my #Run4Results at the AllState 13.1 Half Marathon to benefit the American Cancer Society by making a donation today!