In this piece, we examine the success of Ride Closer to Free, Connecticut’s largest peer-to-peer fundraising bike ride. With only a seven-year history, the ride has grown to raise $2.5 million in 2016, with the money benefitting Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven.
An effective communications schedule is a necessity for the success of any peer-to-peer event. In talking with Jessica Scheps, Development Event Specialist who heads up communications for Ride Closer to Free, we find her communications philosophy differs from many in the peer-to-peer event space. Jessica feels that you have to be aggressive with your communications schedule:
We learned probably in year two of our ride that we didn’t communicate enough. I’d rather hear: ‘I can’t stand getting your emails’ rather than: I’m not getting enough emails.
Too many emails are never enough
So how many emails does she send before Ride Closer to Free? When we talked, it was four months out from their ride:
So right now we’re probably doing scheduled communications to participants once a week. At minimum we do a newsletter that goes out once a month to the entire alumni community, registered riders and volunteers. For our recruitment challenges, I send one a week. And a reminder goes out 48 hours before the deadline and 24 hours out. Once we’re about a month from the ride, emails start to be daily. Those daily emails are about what to bring, where to go, where to pick up your packet, etc. We definitely overwhelm them with information at the very end, but we try not to do it until three to four weeks out.
For many organizations, there’s the fear that even 10 event emails is too many. But as you can tell, Ride Closer to Free participants get dozens, with emails becoming more frequent as event day approaches.
I’d rather hear: ‘I can’t stand getting your emails’ rather than: I’m not getting enough emails.
Throughout the schedule, Jessica’s message is consistent:
I wouldn’t say that there’s any kind of immediacy, unless we’re talking about a fundraising challenge and we say, ‘Hurry up: 48 hours to go.’ The overall tone is simply trying to generate excitement, get people moving, grooving, fundraising and make them feel: ‘Hey it’s almost here.’ Throughout the schedule I’d say that the tone is pretty much the same. We focus on building a community in our messaging. It’s upbeat and along the lines of: ‘Can’t wait to see you.’ We really try to make it feel like a family and we hear back from people that they feel that way.
Triggered notifications: A real motivation factor
In addition to the scheduled emails that Jessica sends, she’s set up custom notifications in the DonorDrive Fundraising Motivation Engine™. These can go out by email, text or Twitter:
All of our notifications are custom and they’re mostly benchmarked for fundraising. When participants hit certain fundraising levels they get automatic notifications. If they hit a fundraising benchmark, like making their goal, they get a ‘congratulations’ message and are notified of prizes they’ve won: ‘You’ve just earned an invitation to xy and z.’
Fundraisers who have not been as successful within a reasonable timeframe are also notified:
If you’re at a low fundraising level we have those notifications going out too. So if they’re at half of their fundraising goal, we have a notice going out to encourage them. All of our notifications in DonorDrive are strictly fundraising focused.
A sensible incentives program
Ride Closer to Free offers incentives to their participants, but Jessica adheres to the philosophy that a little goes a long way, since their supporters really want more revenue to go to mission:
We do both fundraising incentives and we do recruitment challenges to participants to refer a friend. We did a recruitment challenge last week to our alumni participants. It was a 10% off your registration fee and a pair of socks. We don’t go more than 10% off the registration fee. Our fee is $100, so we can’t afford to lose any more than $10. We also have to be a little bit cautious because it costs a lot of money to send prizes. We rely on our sponsors to get gift cards, like $50 at your local cycling shop.
Fundraising minimums make ride day hassle-free
The fundraising minimum in Ride Closer to Free is $500, which Jessica strictly adheres to:
We communicate with anybody who has a low balance a month leading up to the ride saying, ‘Hey you still owe money, just a reminder.’ Our event is on a Saturday, so we do our charges on Tuesday before. So anybody that has a balance is charged that amount on Tuesday, but we communicate that in advance. That way when they come to pick up a packet on Friday, the day before the ride, all of the money stuff has been taken care of.
This allows riders to focus on the fun of the ride itself with the confidence that they’ve done their part in fundraising:
They can certainly bring (and a lot of people do) extra checks or cash that they’ve collected when they pick up their packet, but that’s kind of icing on the cake, they’ve reached their five-hundred-dollar minimum before that. When they come to pick up a packet on Friday, the day before the ride, all of the money stuff has been taken care of.
A vigorous communication plan like Jessica’s is designed to keep riders informed, encourage fundraising, and create excitement around Ride Closer to Free. Something else that can be overlooked by some organizations is that communications like Jessica’s firmly set expectations. While Ride Closer to Free regulars may not need to be reminded of the importance of what they’re doing, the constant message makes it clear that fundraising is why they’re all there.