The Event Marketing Strategy That Turned an Athletic Community into a Fundraising Powerhouse

4 min
Children participating in fundraising tournament
Contributing Author

This piece is written by Sarah Swan, marketing manager at Media Cause—a social-impact and nonprofit marketing agency and Classy partner. 

Tap Cancer Out unites the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community and empowers competitors to fight for more than medals—they fight for those who are in the fight of their lives.

Since its founding, Tap Cancer Out has inspired 1,870 fundraisers at 18 tournaments to raise over $1M to fight cancer. In 2018, as Tap Cancer Out prepared for their 7th annual Connecticut Charity BJJ Open, their fundraising goal was to exceed $170,000 raised on behalf of their beneficiary, Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

By focusing their work on fundraising registrations and supporter nurturing, Tap Cancer Out drove the largest per-person value—$305.60 and achieved the highest total fundraised in BJJ Open tournament history—$185,000 toward the fight against childhood cancer in a single tournament.

The Right Partners

As an organization that hosts charity tournaments, Tap Cancer Out was born out of a peer-to-peer fundraising model and has leveraged the Classy platform since 2012. With Classy’s Events tool, competitors could opt for free registration with fundraising, or a paid ticket with no fundraising requirement. As TCO refined their approach in a seasoned tournament market, they shifted their focus to to registration quality over quantity, emphasizing fundraising over paid tickets.

Media Cause, a digital marketing agency that helps nonprofits scale their impact, joined the team in 2016.

Since day one, I knew Classy was going to be the cornerstone of our fundraising efforts and the key to our growth and scalability. But it wasn’t until we partnered with Media Cause that we were able to create a holistic digital marketing plan to utilize all of Classy’s features and integrations to better nurture and connect with our competitors and fundraisers.

Jon Thomas
Co-founder and executive director, Tap Cancer Out

With Classy’s powerful fundraising suite at the heart of their efforts, Tap Cancer Out leveraged a three-pronged, multi-touchpoint approach to tournament marketing and fundraising:

  1. Social media advertising
  2. Paid search
  3. Email nurturing

By adopting a digital-first, multi-touchpoint, email-focused approach to fundraising, in six years Tap Cancer Out went from $20,000 to $185,000 raised at a single event and over $1,000,000 overall.


Community-Centric Event Marketing

To put this three-pronged approach into action, Media Cause and Tap Cancer Out built a strategy around a single-tournament funnel. This involved a three-phase digital marketing plan that included search engine marketing (SEM), Facebook advertising, and email tactics.

Digital Marketing Phases

  1. SEM and Facebook event response ads
  2. SEM and Facebook registration objective ads
  3. Email nurturing towards fundraising goals

Media Cause layered in paid search and used Tap Cancer Out’s Google Ad Grant to drive more traffic to and conversions on Classy landing pages. Once competitors were registered, they were automatically dropped into a supporter email welcome series segmented by ticket type. Taking advantage of Klaviyo and Classy’s direct integration, Tap Cancer Out used automation to make communication with their supporters a more seamless experience.

The following email tracks were developed to keep supporters engaged:

  • Competitor welcome series
  • Fundraiser welcome series
  • Fundraiser nurturing series
  • Event reminder emails
  • Donation thank you emails

As part of fundraiser nurturing, Tap Cancer Out included incentives for different fundraising milestones, or ‘perk levels,’ as a way to encourage supporters to raise more funds. Thanks to Classy’s powerful tools and integrations, they were able to send automated email updates to fundraisers as these different milestones were reached.

With the help of Media Cause, Tap Cancer Out saw a strong return on their digital fundraising efforts with 56 percent year-over-year growth in email fundraising revenue, 19 percent growth in Facebook fundraising revenue, and an 18X Return on Ad Spend.

The Results

Working with Classy and Media Cause, Tap Cancer Out hosted the most philanthropic tournament in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history with the most fundraisers ever at a single tournament, welcoming more than 650 competitors and raising over $185,000 towards childhood cancer research.

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What’s Next for Tap Cancer Out?

After six years of successful tournaments, Tap Cancer Out is going on tour. They’ve grown from one tournament in 2012 to eleven tournaments in 2018,  including six new tournament locations. They have a goal of raising and donating $2 million in the next two years to their beneficiary.

To learn more about their work, visit their website.

Ready to grow your event’s success? Reach out to an expert today below.


Media Cause is a digital marketing and communications agency that accelerates the growth and impact of organizations doing good around the world. Since 2011, they have worked with over 250 nonprofit organizations, social impact startups, foundations, educators, and philanthropists to create lasting impact. Learn more about their work.

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