Back in 1977, Billy Starr hopped on his bicycle and went for a ride. His mother had just died from melanoma and pushing the limits of the physical body helped Starr grieve the loss of his mother.
On one rather strenuous ride, Starr had an idea. He and his friends would make a weekend of cycling, but instead of just pushing their physical and mental limits, their pedaling efforts would go to raise money for cancer.
Starr had found a deeper purpose in life. It was now time for him to live intentionally and embrace it.
“I was an athlete. I wanted to merge some of the things that I had embraced as an athlete: the commitment, the sweat equity, the teamwork, the camaraderie (all of the things I had enjoyed about sport) and commit it to a higher purpose,” said Starr on a recent interview.
This year, Starr and his team over at the Pan Mass Challenge have set the bold fundraising goal of $45 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund’s lifesaving mission to conquer cancer.
Starr and his friends are inevitably responsible for the “a-thon” fundraising strategy popular in endurance sports like running, cycling, triathlon, or obstacle course racing.
What makes the Pan-Mass Challenge different from the many other “a-thons” out there is that fundraising is the core purpose of the event. And, of course, Starr created this fundraising model well before computers were in our living rooms (or in our pockets for that matter).
“But, most importantly, this ride, while being an inspirational physical, spiritual and emotional weekend, put fundraising at the center of the event. This was not about awareness. You carried a commitment,” says Starr.
Perhaps you have a cause that you too wish to fundraise for. In that case, here are five tips that Starr shared with me to have a successful fundraising event.
Five Tips to Have a Successful Fundraising Event
1. Be Patient (Really Patient)
Sounds simple, but this tip is often overlooked says Starr. He says that you have to be patient when raising money through an event. It took over ten years before Starr and his team were able to raise more than $1 million dollars. Starr says, “I wonder how many start-ups who want to raise that kind of money would last that long.”
Last year, in 2014, his team pulled in a cool $41 million in fundraising.
2. You Have to Love it. I Mean Really Love it.
Starr didn’t take a salary for a year and half. Yet, every day when he went to work he was driven by something more than what money can provide.
“You have to love your work. That should matter more than compensation,” says Starr.
3. Question Paid Advertising and Build a Culture Instead
Starr didn’t pay a dime for paid advertising when he started out. Yes, his fundraising tactics at the beginning were before Google, before Kickstarter, and before Facebook, but he still didn’t pay for advertising.
Instead, he focused on building a culture. One rider would tell one rider who would tell one rider and it grew that like, says Starr.
He adds “It grew slowly. By the tenth year in 1989, we only had 943 riders… now we have 6000.”
Instead of participates pledging to raise a certain amount of money, the PMC, says Starr, was the first event that made participants put up a credit card: “It wasn’t raise whatever you could raise. It was raise what the rules say you owe.”
Participants would be billed by the end of the year what they owed if they hadn’t already paid up.
5. Be Transparent
For starters, you should always be transparent when raising money for a cause. Now more than ever, however, you need to be transparent because you will get caught if you’re not.
That said, Starr said it has always been a focus of the PMC to be transparent with where funds go.
(To see where the fundraising dollars go, click here for a breakdown of the $41 million raised in 2014.)
The Pan-Mass Challenge is a 192-mile bike-a-thon. Today, it has raised a total of — get this — $455 million, for adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since 1980. In 2015, they aim to raise another $45 million bringing the total since 1980 to .5 billion.
The PMC will be on August 1st and 2nd, 2015. You can catch the live televised opening ceremonies on WBZTV in Boston, Massachusetts.
Listen to the full interview with Billy here.
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