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How to Plan a Powerhouse Endurance Event That Raises $4.7 Million

By Will Schmidt

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The first-ever VeloSano “Bike to cure” event took place in July 2014. Now, it stands as one of the hallmark fundraising events for the city of Cleveland, where riders, volunteers, and fundraisers come together to support the Cleveland Clinic’s fight against cancer.

One of the trademark characteristics of this event is that 100% of the funds raised go directly toward finding a cure. This year, they were able to raise $4,725,810.

These fundraising totals are impressive for a team of any size, but even more so when considering that VeloSano is run by a core team of four who operate as a unit within the broader Cleveland Clinic organization.

We spoke with Nicole Peters, executive director of VeloSano, to explore the tactics she and her team used to achieve this kind of growth and traction. Below we’ll go over their best practices and how your nonprofit can mirror these efforts in your own endurance event.

1. Try New Tactics Each Year

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each year, but you need to try and keep it fresh for your return attendees. For the VeloSano team, this means examining their tactics from past years and determining if they should maintain, enhance, or pivot their efforts to go in a new direction.

Examination is half of the equation. The other half is discussing potential new tactics to drive more momentum for the event’s goals, whether that’s increased brand awareness, participation, volunteer signups, or fundraising totals.

For example, VeloSano supporters across Cleveland place event signs in their front yard to help promote the event. Each year, the team organizes a distribution day where people can come pick them up.

This has proved a successful strategy to spread the word about VeloSano, so this year, they decided to enhance their efforts and offer multiple pickup locations across town. So many people showed up that they ran out of signs and had to order more.

Another new tactic they used was implementing a $25,000 matching donation pool to encourage fundraising traction. The team also branded the match in alignment with the event’s driving goal to deliver 100% of funds to the cure.

With 100 days to go before VeloSano, they unveiled their match. Anyone who raised $100 on the exact date of 100 days until the event would get a $100 match: 100 days, $100, and 100% for the cure.

This twofold strategy drove higher fundraising revenue and engagement. It also drove registrations, because you can’t fundraise without first registering for VeloSano.

2. Create Stewardship Opportunities

There are many more opportunities for donor stewardship beyond a post-event “thank you”. Thank you notes are a stewardship best practice, but your team should consider what other touchpoints you can create with your attendees and donors throughout the year.

Perhaps the biggest stewardship opportunity for VeloSano is the VeloSano Bash, which takes place a few months after the endurance event. Participants gather to watch and celebrate as the VeloSano team announces the total amount raised from the event.

Not only is it an exciting way to reveal the fundraising total, but it’s also a powerful stewardship opportunity that helps re-engage supporters after the VeloSano “Bike to cure” weekend. The VeloSano Bash also pushes supporters to think about next year’s event months before it’s even kicked off.

Other stewardship touch points include a team captain luncheon at the beginning of the year where everyone discusses plans for the upcoming ride and shares best practices for fundraising engagement.

To showcase the impact made from VeloSano, there’s also an event that features a panel of Cleveland Clinic cancer researchers. These researchers give updates and show what progress they’ve made thanks to the money raised through VeloSano.

After the panel, attendees get tours of the cancer center and research labs. This is a tangible impact that supporters can see, hear, and feel. Consider your nonprofit’s different supporter groups and work to build special moments like this for them.

3. Maximize Retention Efforts

Your stewardship efforts create a positive experience for your supporters, and it’s directly related to retention. This makes them feel heard, valued, and appreciated. That, in turn, keeps them coming back to your nonprofit when looking for a worthy cause to donate their time or money.

For the VeloSano team, the more support they can retain, the higher their engagement rates and fundraising revenue that go directly to the cure. Below, we’ll explore how they work to retain three core groups: event participants, partners, and volunteers.

Retaining Event Participants

When someone signs up to fundraise on your behalf, you want them to have a pleasant, positive experience. If they feel empowered in the process and hit their fundraising goal, they’re more likely to come back and fundraise again.

Since VeloSano operates on a peer-to-peer fundraising model, it’s crucial that the people fundraising are equipped with the necessary tools to succeed. To that end, they built a resource center on their website that has a training guide, fundraising toolkit, and a quick tips sheet for successful outreach. They recognize that fundraising isn’t always easy, which is why they’ve aggregated these helpful resources into one easy-to-find location.

These tactics have worked well for us because people can be hesitant to give fundraising a shot. But nine times out of ten, once somebody signs up and sees all the tools available, they do well, raise money, and come back again next year.

Nicole Peters
Executive Director of VeloSano

VeloSano offers the option for people to sign up for the endurance event as a virtual rider. While their in-person fundraising minimums for riders range from $500 to $2,000—depending on the distance someone wants to cycle—signing up as a virtual rider comes with a $25 minimum commitment.

It’s a more affordable entry which is appealing to a wider audience who might not have been able to participate at the higher fundraising minimum. And if the person exceeds this $25 goal, the VeloSano team will upgrade them to a full, non-virtual participant. In total, they were able to grow their riders to 2,389, an 18% increase from 2018 to 2019.

Retain Partners

Most of VeloSano’s partners have been affiliated with the endurance event since the beginning. These relationships are a cornerstone of the event, and their financial and in-kind contributions make it possible to achieve VeloSano’s ultimate goal: to use 100% of the funds raised towards research for the cure.

In order to keep these dedicated partners engaged, the VeloSano team hosts a separate event just for them: The Partner Appreciation Reception. This takes place in June, right as everyone is gearing up for VeloSano weekend and serves as a critically-timed touchpoint to drive home the “why” behind the event.

Then, each partner is invited to their December event that highlights the Cleveland Clinic researchers. They also get a tour of the facilities at this event and get to see what their support helps the organization accomplish.

Finally, partners are invited to have a representative on the committee for the event itself. This is an opportunity for them to weigh in on decisions around how the event itself is organized and how to improve it each year.

All these efforts provide a true sense of partnership, and they get to own a voice in the impact made in the fight against cancer. When you can make people feel valued and heard like this, they feel more bought in and will want to support your endurance event because they have a personal stake in it.

Retain Volunteers

Volunteers have a major impact on a fundraising event, since they’re often the ones interacting with attendees and ensuring the event runs smoothly. This alone makes volunteer retention a priority, but a focus on volunteer experience is even more critical since the more volunteers you can retain from event to event, the less time you have to spend with onboarding and training.

This frees up valuable time and resources for your team in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the endurance event. To keep volunteers engaged with VeloSano, the team lets them take ownership over their involvement.

For example, the volunteers from Jones Day law firm always commit to running the first big rest stop on the course. They put their unique, personalized touch on the rest stop every year, and it’s become a matter of pride for them to do it each year now.

The team also holds a separate volunteer captain appreciation event to thank them for their hard work making VeloSano a success.

Providing a positive experience for your volunteers also has an impact on your event marketing. These people will tell their friends and family about how great VeloSano was and potentially tap into new audiences of support.

Use these examples from the VeloSano team to help inspire your own endurance event, and remember that even a small team can effectively throw an event and raise money for their mission. If you can keep it fresh, create strong stewardship opportunities, and retain your supporters each year you’ll be well on your way to hosting a powerhouse endurance event.

There are so many moving pieces that go into throwing a successful event, from preparation to post-event wrap up. We covered a few of them here, but if you want more tips for your next endurance event, make sure to download our guide below.

The Social Media Marketing Guide for Nonprofit Events

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