By Molly Fast
For the past six years, I’ve participated in Cycle for Survival, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s wildly successful and popular indoor cycle event that raises money for rare cancer research. (Side note: it was also selected as the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum’s Program of the Year at this year’s P2P conference in March.) In those six years, I’ve raised $144,499.62, approximately 😉
Like many of us, cancer has hit too close to home. I know more people than seems fair who have been impacted with a (rare) cancer diagnosis. As someone who has spent the past 16 years working on an event that raises money for breast cancer, I decided several years ago to turn my focus to raising money for cancers which are severely under-funded. My father passed away in 2004 after a six-month battle with esophageal cancer. A close friend was diagnosed at 34 with chondrosarcoma. And in December, another friend was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, which has an 8% survival rate. Even with these close connections (and sadly, many others), I had no idea I’d be able to raise nearly $150,000 in such a short period of time.
Those who know me know that I could go on and on and on (and on!) about fundraising. It’s one of my very favorite topics. I’m deeply passionate about peer-to-peer fundraising and the ways it impacts the world. And I think it’s such a privilege to reach out a hand to those who need it in the form of a donation ask. I’ll try and reign it in, but in this two-part blog series I’m going to share with you how I’ve raised so much money in such a short period of time, and most recently, how I was able to raise more than $32,000 in 25 days. Seriously.
I have a 9-Step Formula to Fundraising Success, but today we’re going to focus on the first four. Come back in two weeks to see the final five!
1. Get ready to get uncomfortable.
I know this isn’t the sexiest way to start off but I’m keeping it real. And the truth is that raising a lot of money requires you to get uncomfortable. It’s hard to ask people for money regardless of how well-intentioned you are or how much you believe in what you’re doing. It’s human nature and we all fall prey to that while doing fundraising. But if you go into your fundraising knowing that you’re going to be uncomfortable, you can take away the ickiness of it all and know that it just comes with the territory.
Even I get uncomfortable throughout the process, which surprises people who know me well. By the time I send out my fourth and final fundraising ask (more on that later!), I am seriously questioning and second-guessing myself. But at the same time, I’m willing to make myself uncomfortable to raise money on behalf of the people I love and all those who need it the most. As my friend Sharyn says, “You’re not raising money for your vacation fund.” Keep this in mind when you get uncomfortable. Remember why you’re doing it and be motivated by the difference you are making in this world.
2. Set a goal that requires you to step out of your comfort zone.
Throughout my time fundraising for Cycle for Survival, I’ve set crazy goals for myself. Like what? Like this:
- Raising $10,000 in 10 days
- Raising $15,000 in 15 days
- Raising $25,000 in 25 days
All of these goals (which I reached and then changed as I continued to fundraise) have stretched me well beyond my comfort zone. And none more than the one I set for myself this year: raising $25k in 25 days. But what I’ve found over the years is that my donors are beyond generous with their donations because they see how much I’m trying to raise. I know for a fact that the size of their donations wouldn’t be as big if I’d significantly lowered my goal.
It has been a humbling experience as a fundraiser to see the way my donors support me and do what they can to help me get closer to my seemingly out-of-reach fundraising goals. They’ve shared how inspired they are by how much I try to raise and are happy to be part of something that is so important, impactful and meaningful.
3. Make your ask personal by sharing your story.
Everyone in the fundraising space knows that the sharing of your story is truly key to making your fundraising ask stand out. What you write will educate your donors on why the cause you’re fundraising for is important to you. And it has the potential to impact and inspire how much and when your donors give.
One of the secrets to my fundraising success is this: I send a personal email request to every single person I request a donation from. Is this time consuming? Heck yeah it is. It takes hours upon hours because I ask everyone I know (more on that in a minute). But it allows me to personalize each message for the intended recipient and get really specific. (Another fundraising tip: if you’re doing a copy and paste, be super careful to change important things like the person’s name and, if applicable, how much money they gave previously.) I can reference their connection to the cause if I know it, and the ways in which they’ve supported me in the past.
This personal 1:1 approach has been very good to me and I recommend you give it a try if it’s not already part of your main fundraising strategy. I know that in this day and age of Facebook fundraising, it’s much easier and way more appealing to simply post a link, make a blanket ask and call it a day. And while that may work in picking up donors you may not have had otherwise, it’s not the most effective way to do your fundraising. Doing it this way doesn’t allow you to truly go in depth about your fundraising request and it prevents you from being able to share your story in a meaningful way. It also relies on Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms to tip in your favor and for people to not scroll past your request. It is much easier to ignore a Facebook post than it is to ignore an email that pops into your inbox. And, some people prefer being asked directly, even if they do see your Facebook posts.
4. Ask everyone you know. And I mean everyone.
During my latest fundraising effort for Cycle for Survival, I targeted 318 people in my initial fundraising ask. Yep. I sent out 318 individual emails over the course of a few days telling people what I was doing, why I was attempting to raise $25k in 25 days and, most importantly, what I needed them to do.
My list included every single person who donated to me in the past few years. My entire family and extended family. My friends. Friends of friends. My ex-boyfriend’s mother (what?! She’s one of my most loyal donors). My dentist (also one of my most loyal and enthusiastic donors!). My doctors (they don’t give, but I keep asking 😊). Coworkers. Truly everyone.
Of the 318 people I reached out to, 68% of them donated. This is the very reason why you must cast a wide net. Fundraising is a numbers game in so many ways. But understanding that not everyone you reach out to will donate is exactly why you need to ask Every Single Person You Know (and Barely Know) to donate.
I moderated a fundraising webinar in May and Julie, a fundraising superstar who participates in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® said, “Think broadly about who you can ask. I go through my email list and basically anyone who has ever sent me an email is likely to get at least an initial inquiry from me.” So if you’re looking for a place to start, look through your email address book and contact list. And if you’re on Facebook, look through your friend list. I like to send 1:1 emails, so if I don’t have an email address for someone on my Facebook friend list, I will send them a private message and ask for it.
As hard as it is, I never make the decision for a donor. I may be privy to personal information (like someone is between jobs or about to go on an epic vacation or they are struggling in their own life) that makes me pause and think now isn’t the right time to ask for a donation. But I push through that and let each person make that decision for themselves. I have been surprised by people who have continued to donate even though they didn’t have a job. I’ve been equally touched by someone who donated $5 because it was all they could afford. The point here is that we must step outside of our comfort zones and let each person determine for themselves what’s important to them.
Plus, it’s so true that the worst someone can say is no. And I promise you’ll recover from that!
This is a good place to leave us for today. In two weeks, I’ll share my final five fundraising tips. But while we have you, would you please add a comment below and let us know what you think? Will you be sharing these tips with your participants? Will you consider adding some of this to your own fundraising strategy?
Talk more in two weeks!
Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For nearly 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on Twitter, LinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.