Friday, August 19, 2016

How to Stay Sane Organizing a Charity Ride

Cyclists have a lot of love in their hearts. We love riding our bikes, talking about our bikes, and talking to people who also love bikes. We love the communities we ride in and around, and we love doing good for ourselves and for others.

When it comes to making a positive impact on the community, the natural inclination is to find a way to join something we enjoy with something that can help others. Thus, charity bike rides grow in popularity year after year, raising incredible amounts of money for a wide array of causes, from military veterans, shelter pets, children's cancer research, to my personal heartfelt mission of seniors and adults with disabilities.

Thinking of starting a ride to benefit your favorite cause? Event planning and organizing, at any level, can be overwhelming, but the results are often well worth it! As a professional fundraiser working in the nonprofit field, I myself recently started the process of planning a charity ride for my organization, Family Eldercare in Austin, Texas, and I'd like to share what I've learned from the process. This is not a complete list because that would be much too long for a blog post, but I hope it provides a good basic set of ideas to guide you!

In the Beginning

1. Pick an organization

        -If you work for a charity, like I do, that choice is easy! If not, choose a charity that has a mission that aligns with your interests. The more passionate you are, the more you'll enjoy the process.
        -Be sure to make the organization aware of your desire to help! (Seriously, you'd be surprised how many people DON'T!) They may have resources, suggestions, or even a budget to help you help them.

2. Know your budget!
        -Are you wanting to just put together a group ride to gather donations of canned goods for a food pantry? Or, are you producing a major event to generate revenue? One of these is not like the other, and the other is much more expensive to produce with good results! Discuss with your committee what money you have to spend, and learn your anticipated costs.

3. Set a goal for fundraising- what does it look like?
         -Charities are not lying when they say every little bit helps, so don't worry if your goal isn't $100,000! For small, local events thrown on your own time, a good goal is $1,000-$5,000. For larger events hosted by charities themselves, our goals are typically $20,000-$50,000+, depending on the size of the charity in the first place.
        -A good question to ask the charity is "what would a donation look like that helped your mission?" For example, at my organization, we tell people $15 buys a fan for a senior in need of heat relief. That way, if they set their goal at $1,500, they can let people know their goal is to raise enough for 100 fans!

A great idea is to ask to meet with someone from a charity that already has an established ride. That will help you gain great insight in to what the planning process looks likes, what to expect, and what has and hasn't worked for them. The nonprofit world is a great community, and we always work together and share ideas, even if it's technically with the "competition."

4. Pick a name!
         -Think of something snappy, easy to say, and creative. It doesn't necessarily have to be "themed" or directly reference the charity, but the more you can associate with your cause, the better.
         - Take your time- this part can be hard! It took me the entirety of a 40 mile ride to think of "Gears for the Years" for my ride!

5. Make a plan: Choose your route, make a TCP, Emergency preparedness, and day-of timeline
         -This is the most important step in your pre-planning. You need to start brainstorming your preferred routes and locations and contact the city, county, and possibly state (depending on the roads on the route) offices that handle special events. Even if you don't get immediate approval, you want to ensure you won't get a flat-out "no" BEFORE you begin advertising!
         -Traffic Control Plans, or "TCP" are required for any road closures or formal special events taking place on public roadways. They must be designed and stamped by a civil engineer. Again, if you are doing a smaller group ride that would not obstruct traffic any more than a normal group ride, and are not placing signage in any right-of-ways, this step is not necessary!
        -Site maps, emergency plans, and day-of timelines are important. Start jotting things down early so when it comes time to formally create them, you're ready and don't forget anything!

6. Lists, lists, lists: Contacts, supplies, possible sponsors, etc.
         -Become best friends with Excel. Seriously, this is what my spreadsheet looks like. Look at all those tabs at the bottom! Record ALL of the people, places, and things you're working with. It will also help when you start to plan again for the following year. You won't have to re-track everything down!



Getting to the Starting Line

1. Decide the basics: Date, time, location
            -Your first choice may not work, and that's OK. Do what works best for your schedule, and if you're renting a venue for your start/finish line, your budget!
            - Check local ride calendars and make sure there isn't another charity ride on the same date. In areas where cycling is popular, that may not be totally possible, but at least avoid double-booking with any major long-running rides that will take priority in the minds of your desired riders!

2. Get approval! Obtain permits from city, county, and state entities.
            - You should have already been working on this before you announced the ride, but continue communicating with local authorities and ensure you have all proper permits if your ride is considered a special event! Permits are typically not overly-expensive, but closing intersections requires hiring public safety officers, so build that in to your budget!

3. Set up Registration
          - If your event will be more than 50 people (that's about all I can handle with Excel alone!) then I highly recommend getting your event on a registration site. If you work for a nonprofit, see if your donor database software (such as Raiser's Edge) has an option for forms. If not, you can check out BikeReg.com, Active.com, EventBrite.com, or RedPodium.com. There are LOTS of options, so shop around and find the best deal!

4. Market, Network, and Market some more!
          - No one is going to come if no one knows you're having a ride! Create flyers, or even better, postcards (use a service such as VistaPrint for affordable options if you're doing this yourself) that are easy to hand out and visit every bike shop and fitness/wellness realted business you can think of.
          - Most online community calendars for newspapers and websites are free. Add your event!
          - Contact local ride groups, MeetUps, and other social groups and ask if it would be ok to share the information.
          - The more you talk about it, the better. Create a Facebook page or event page for the event and spend a few dollars promoting it to reach wider audiences. Come up with a catchy logo to gain attention!
I made this myself in Photoshop with purchased vector images and free fonts!

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
         -Ensure you are gathering rider email addresses. Send periodic (not constant!) updates so they trust the event is being well-run and managed.
         - Include as much ride information as possible on the website for it- routes, aid station information, after-party activities, and don't forget to thank your sponsors!

6. Lose your fear of "No."
         -This is the number one most important lesson for being a fundraiser, and I mean it. JUST ASK! Do not be afraid to ask a company for a donation, or a friend to sign up. The worst that can happen is that they say no, and I promise, it's not the end of the world. The good thing is, most people really want to help, just help them see how it benefits them as well!

7. Have a plan for volunteers!
       -You'll need volunteers for aid stations, parking, packet pickup, and much more. Make an educated guess, then add some, and you might have enough. Extra is always better!
       - Contact local high school honor societies, service organizations, or even businesses who have volunteering requirements. They are often looking for ways for their group to help.

8. Don't forget logistics: aid stations, potties, PA systems, SAG, signage, and parking
        -Visualize attending your event and go through each piece of the day, jotting down the items you'll need to make it happen. It helps to attend a few events before yours and take a look around to see what they have.

9. Fill that Swag Bag: shirts, fliers, goodies, and more
       - Most rides include at least a tshirt. It doesn't have to be a fancy tech shirt for a charity ride. Cotton is fine!
       - Use your packet pickup as another fundraising opportunity. Offer local businesses the chance to put in fliers or swag in exchange for a donation of a certain amount (Ours was $400 minimum) Your riders get goodies, and you get funds!

Keeping On Track

1. Don't let fear rule you.

     - The hardest part of planning an event is the constant fear that no one will show up. If you're doing your job and getting the word out, you'll be pleasantly surprised, so don't waste time on this worry!

2. Ask for help!
      - It's likely you have friends, family, or coworkers who want to see your efforts succeed. Don't be afraid to ask, and don't do it all yourself!

3. Go through the motions mentally
     -When you feel that anxiety rise, visualise the event and go through the motions. It will help you keep calm, feel collected, and you may realize something you've forgotten!

4. Have a plan A, B, and C and an "alien abduction scenario" plan
     -Have all of your information for the ride saved somewhere and make sure someone else knows where that is. In case you are abducted by aliens the day before the ride, there needs to be someone who knows what to do in your place.
      - Be sure to have the names, phone numbers, and emails of all important personnel, vendors, and staff point persons laminated and on hand during the event. If someone doesn't show up, you need to know how to contact them immediately!

5. Remember What it's For
       - Seriously. Event planning is stressful. But if you keep in mind the amazing cause you're raising money for, and remember that the charity will be so grateful (even if it's your job and you're paid to do it!) then it is all worthwhile. Have FUN!


I'll be trying to keep my own advice in mind as my event approaches, and will report back after it happens with what worked, what didn't work, and the lessons I learned. Hopefully I'll have a major success story to share! (Visualizing now!)