Lessons Learned – What our journey has taught us.

A year ago we had a random idea to climb a large mountain (and do it for good cause). We didn’t really understand what it would take to get to the summit of Kilimanjaro, let alone raise money for a charity. Now that our trek is complete and our charity efforts are poised for transition, we’d like to share a bit about what we’ve learned from our successes and failures.

1. Find a Story

We all now know how Phil has coped with cerebral palsy his entire life, and about the treatments and therapy he received as a child that made it possible for him to embark on our trek. All of these make compelling reasons to support Phil’s efforts and contribute to groups like United Cerebral Palsy of MetroBoston — an organization that shares our desire to show that everyone deserves to live life without limits.

Phil preparing for the final day at Kilimanjaro.

Phil preparing for the final day at Kilimanjaro.

When thinking about what to do to for charity, give careful consideration to what connections you have with the causes you would like to support. These connections help motivate your team (none of us gave helping with this charity a second thought) and project, but also develop interest from your supporters. It is important to be passionate (which is easy with a good story) about the cause you select — it’s noticeable and will help your cause.

You will encounter challenging times during your journey to raise money and plan a trip. It will be your passion that will keep you moving forward.

2. Create a Brand

You may not set out to start a corporation, or even establish a long-lasting charity, but starting with a consistent brand that your supporters can connect to, identify with, follow, and remember is critical to maintaining an audience. Pick a name that’s meaningful to you, but broad enough to move on with if you decide to continue in a different direction; stick with the same style across all of your distributed content; and present yourself as an organization (no need to be too stuffy about it, though).

Climb for Cerebral Palsy Poster 3

You may not consider yourself a brand, but it’s important to establish trust and consistency in a brand when working with donors and non-profit organizations.

3. Start Local

Go with who you know first. Local these days doesn’t necessarily mean who lives nearby, but rather reflects the connections you already have. (Except for food. Fresh fruits, veggies, and meat are delicious!) Reaching out to close friends, family, and coworkers is a good way to build a foundation (or more) for your charity. Over 75% of the donations we received for UCP of MetroBoston were from people we know first hand.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was connecting with strangers for support. It’s important to not start out expecting to receive a majority of your donations from people outside of your existing network of family and friends. That said, from this starter group you can branch out with more confidence to sponsors, donors, and the media.

4. Develop Strong Partnerships

Phil presenting the first donation to UCP of MetroBoston

Phil presenting the first donation to UCP of MetroBoston

We went with the more traditional meaning of “local” when choosing our primary partner, UCP of MetroBoston. Because they shared our main principles and gave us the opportunity to support people with disabilities in our area, UCP of MetroBoston made an ideal partner to enhance our charity efforts. Not only that, but the meaningful alignment of charity event and partner organization provides a mutually beneficial marketing opportunity.

You are able to provide your partner organization with a pre-packaged story for marketing material and events, allowing them to spread the word of your efforts and increase awareness and interest to their existing audience. Similarly, the newer audience developed by you is introduced to a non-profit organization and cause that they may not have been familiar with, increasing awareness and interest for the partner group. In addition, an established non-profit likely has connections to traditional media outlets that they are able to leverage on your behalf.

5. Network

Developing connections is always important. Small-business people willing to participate in event fundraising, invested individuals that enthusiastically spread the word, and volunteers can make or break your efforts. Joining events for other non-profit organizations, setting up meetings through mutual acquaintances, or just putting yourself and your cause out there with a call or email is all it takes to start to get to know others interested your efforts.

We were able to get published in the media and generate other opportunities through simply reaching out via social media, email, or telephone to other groups and individuals. For instance, we developed great connections with other Boston University-related organizations, the Boston University Outing Club and Project Mailbox, who helped us raise additional money with joint fundraising efforts and get into a couple of BU- and Boston-centric publications.

The more you reach out, the more likely you will find that one opportunity that helps bring awareness to your charity project.

6. Host Events

Fundraising event with Massachusetts Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Find a way to connect your charity with the interests of others in your area. Holding events for screenings, food festivals, or sports provide a great chance to spread the word to others about your charity and get to know your audience. We found events to be a very efficient way to spread awareness and get others involved with your story and cause.

Our experience with the REEL ROCK screenings was fantastic. Not only did we add to our group of followers and raise money through ticket sales, but we also connected with amazing local businesses interested in our cause. Another example is a jiu-jitsu seminar that was run by one of our sponsors, which provided an opportunity for us to meet some great new people from the area and raised over $1,000.

7. Build a Community

Each of the steps outlined in this article all have a common theme: building a community of like-minded people that support your cause by donating, sponsoring or participating in events, and/or volunteering to help raise money for your cause. Marketing in a world of websites and social networks is not about big-money interruptive ads. As a non-profit or charity event with fewer resources at your disposal, it’s all about taking advantage of the relatively cheap methods available with online media and grassroots event fundraising to start conversations and build connections that can really extend the reach of your project.