During the last few weeks in this Event Fundraising blog, we have been looking at ways to maximize the offseason for planning and preparation for the coming event season. My contribution to this trove is a case study of a small, emerging challenge event in Maine called Tri for a Cure.

Maine Cancer Foundation launched this event in 2008, and has enjoyed continual growth in fundraising revenues each year since. With its course along Maine’s gorgeous coastline, this women-only triathlon has been wildly popular since it first launched, however it has taken deliberate strategic and tactical updates to the event format to ensure continued revenue growth.

For insight into exactly what types of changes were made during the planning stages each year, I exchanged some emails with Erlene LeBorgne, formerly IT and Community Marketing Manager at Maine Cancer Foundation. (Erlene has since left Maine Cancer to devote herself full time to Maine Lab Rescue, a dog and cat rescue group she founded.)

One of the things that she emphasized overall was that due to the nature of the course, adding more competitors to ensure revenue growth wasn’t an option; for the most part, the team had to do more with the same number of fundraisers. Given the thrifty and practical nature of Mainers, this was a challenge they seemed to excel at. Let’s see how they did it.

Tri for a Cure Tips on Planning for Growth

Our first year for Tri for a Cure was 2008. We netted a very respectable revenue with this new, untested event in 2008 and grew it by 25% in 2009. During our planning sessions for the 2010 event, we decided that in order to improve on years one and two and take fundraising to new levels, we had to address the size limit and zero dollar participants:

  • Competition slots were limited to 800; would the course support more?
  • Fundraising had been strong, but 30% of participants raised zero dollars
  • Time spent by our small staff on coaching fundraisers and providing tips and techniques for the fundraising software seemed significant

We decided that the best way to address these challenges in the 2010 event would be by making some changes, including:

  • Instituted a $250 fundraising minimum
  • Increased the number of participants by about 8%, to 1,000
  • Developed an online Fundraising Tutorial to give our participants step-by-step instructions they could access 24×7 to get fundraising tips and best practices for using the online tools

The results for 2010’s Tri for a Cure event validated our approach. Even with the fundraising minimum and the increased number of participants, race slots remained highly sought after. The race sold out in 8 minutes. In addition, we found that calls from participants with questions about fundraising decreased by about 75%, leaving staff with more time to focus on the event. After expenses our net revenue represented a 92% increase.

Planning for Another Season of Growth

During our planning sessions for 2011, we decided we couldn’t increase the size of the field. We would have to help our 1,000 fundraisers raise more money. To continue to grow our revenue, we made these changes in the 2011 event season:

  • Increased the fundraising minimum again, to $350
  • Provided more participant support through a “Tri Talk” email series, which gave fundraising tips and explained how to use online tools effectively, including use “new” opportunities like social media and QR codes
  • Solicited tips from last year’s top fundraisers and shared these with all participants

These changes worked; we had another record-breaking year in 2011. The race sold out in five minutes. Most participants readily accepted the fundraising minimum increase from $250 to $350, and the net after expenses was up nearly 10% over 2010.

—-

The annual changes made by Maine Cancer Foundation to their Tri for a Cure program were not dramatic. Most were based on looking at strengths (a very popular event) and modifying strategies and tactics (offloading some repetitive staff tasks to the website and email campaigns) to help address under-performing areas, like fundraising per participant.

Our Peer-to-Peer Benchmark Study and donorCentrics Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Benchmarking Insights reports can provide insight to inform your off-season analysis and planning. Our newest peer-to-peer benchmarks study will be released in March 2013.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathryn Hall began developing web-based applications in 1996, and in this capacity has worked with leading international nonprofits as well as Fortune 500 ecommerce and telecommunications companies. As a web producer and consultant at Blackbaud, she has managed fundraising website implementations and technical support for several major international charities. In her current role as a senior client success manager, she works principally with top peer-to-peer clients, helping them optimize their use of software, analyze their results, and incorporate best practice strategies into their events programs. When not working, Kathryn spends a lot of time tending her “animal farm” with two dogs and two cats, long-distance bicycle training, and finalizing for publication a book entitled “Touching History: Four Centuries of Indian-White Relations”.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!