By Mary B. O’Neill, Ph.D. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Physical activity and fundraising go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Walks, runs, swims, triathlons, bike rides, and golf events to raise funds for local non-profits can accomplish several objectives. They promote activity, collective action, cause recognition, and increased donations for a worthy cause.
In our tri-state area, you can hardly drive a mile without seeing event signs lining the road at well-travelled intersections. These small markers sprout from the ground like flowers to announce upcoming athletic activities for the benefit of a local or national non-profit. The problem is, it’s almost impossible to take in the date and cause as you whiz by and then – uh-oh, it’s gone. Hopefully you’ll drive by again tomorrow.
Local newspapers are helpful to spread the word, but one missed deadline or a week of newsworthy events can cause your event to miss out on valuable publicity.
Non-profit volunteers, staff, and trustees set a date for a signature fundraising activity – only to discover three other local organizations had the same unique idea on the same ideal date.
If you’ve worked or volunteered for a non-profit, these travails are familiar to you and make fundraising events harder than they need to be. Yet, these events are critical to a non-profit’s well-being and its ability to fulfill its mission.
There’s got to be a better way. And now there is! Thanks to John “Willie” Hallihan’s new sportingAcause website, your fitness-based event planning and publicity woes are over.
The product of long experience
Hallihan can also commiserate with the scenarios above. A retired renovation contractor who enjoys writing, this Salisbury resident has devoted himself to the non-profit Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) for the past 15 years. As SWSA’s press and communications liaison, it’s been his job to coordinate the dates and get out the word about their fundraising events. Hallihan observes, “Because of SWSA, I’ve become embedded in the local non-profit community, and when you work for one non-profit, you become aware of others.”
These non-profits are often vying for the same pot of donations in the local area, with events that very much depend on narrow windows of optimal seasonal scheduling. Despite these constraints, “What could be a very competitive situation actually turns into a supportive one. We all work to lift each other up. Our SWSA fundraisers also become co-fundraising events for other organizations in town – Lakeville Hose Company, The Jane Lloyd Fund, Sunday in the Country Food Drive, and SOAR (the enrichment program of Salisbury Central School) have all been part of our SWSA events.”
“Scheduling fundraisers to not conflict with those planned by other non-profits is always tricky. There’s no reliable way of knowing when and where other organizations are planning their events.” That got Hallihan thinking…
If you build it, they will click
For the past several years Hallihan has been mulling over a solution to these problems. What if there were some centralized way of coordinating and disseminating information about activity or sport-related fundraisers?
He knew it would have to involve the internet, but Hallihan is an old-fashioned kinda guy. Okay, let’s just call it – he’s a self-professed dinosaur when it comes to all things web based. He couldn’t quite visualize how to make his idea happen, and yet the image of his non-profit event resource clearinghouse kept sharpening.
He’s been dutifully clipping event articles out of local papers and bouncing ideas off friends and strangers alike. “I received lots of positive feedback, but still I wondered if my solution could work.”
Then he met Lauren and Mark Trager of Salisbury-based Two Twelve Consultants. The Tragers combine their decades of business experience with their desire to serve the community. They provide one-on-one, reasonably-priced consulting for local entrepreneurs with a glimmer of an idea to those with established businesses looking to expand. In addition to their fee-paying clients, the Tragers also provide pro-bono services to a handful of local non-profits, one of which is SWSA.
It was through their SWSA relationship that Hallihan approached the Tragers, seeking that external professional validation he needed to take a vision and make it real. “I lacked the confidence to take my idea forward. Starting a project like this seemed so daunting. I had no idea where to begin. Lauren and Mark bolstered my belief that this idea had potential.” And so, he hired them to do what they do best – move him along the continuum from entrepreneurial idea to execution.
“Lauren and Mark have been invaluable to me in so many ways. Aside from helping me clarify my idea and mission, they vetted web designers and found Lance Leifert of Conquest Consulting in Avon, CT. Lance designed a site with the functionality I need to run this completely web-based organization that’s also easy enough for me to update on my own,” says Hallihan.
To round out his team, Hallihan recruited free agent Matthew Murray, a Housatonic Valley Regional High School student-athlete with a penchant for photography and social media. With arguably the toughest job of all, Murray is gently moving Hallihan along the learning curve of how to make the site more visual and increase its reach through social media.
SportingAcause is born
The sportingAcause site is now up and running and Hallihan living his dream, though “feeling equal parts terror and elation. I’m thrilled to be on this journey – to realize an idea that serves the local tri-state area. I want this site to work for everyone – local communities, sponsors, donors, participants, non-profits, and all the worthwhile causes they represent.”
Hallihan has been beating the bushes for events to feature on sportingAcause in the geographical areas the site serves. If you’re driving in Connecticut from Torrington through the Northwest Corner, in Massachusetts from Pittsfield on down to the Connecticut border, or in New York in eastern Columbia and Dutchess Counties – be careful. You might be travelling behind Hallihan, who may suddenly veer off the road to snap a photo of a small sign promoting an upcoming 5K.
“I’m looking for events to feature all the time. When I discover one, I call the organizers and tell them about sportingAcause. While giving me the event information, I find out I’m talking to the parent or relative of the person in whose honor the event is being held. Their stories are so touching and genuine that as the site gets going, I want tell them and share the face of that cause.”
The sportingAcause website contains four fundraising event calendars devoted to different types of sporting activities: golf tournaments, running/walking/biking events, school-based fund raisers, and everything else – which includes bunco, just in case you were wondering.
While these calendars are primarily for potential participants or spectators to find an event and register, it also serves as a planning tool for non-profits. “This will help non-profits avoid doing what I’ve done – schedule a golf tournament, only to find there were two others for the same date.” Hallihan wants to help organizations maximize participation and minimize competition for bodies.
Hallihan also plans to shine a spotlight on the local businesses who provide sponsorship support. “Our corporate sponsors, mainly businesses in the community, seldom get the recognition they deserve. Without local business sponsorship, many of these events wouldn’t get off the ground or be nearly as successful.” He believes sportingAcause can draw attention to these vital, yet often unsung, philanthropic efforts.
The writer in Hallihan plans to post a regular blog that pays homage to causes and the people they honor, educates non-profits about event planning best practice, and draws attention to new ideas for successful activity-based fund raisers. He’s also looking for guest blog contributions and post-event updates.
Calling all non-profits
Hallihan is putting out the call to all non-profits in the tri-state area to list their sports or fitness events on his site. “I want to be part of the publicity strategy for every non-profit in the area and become another way for participants and donors to connect with a cause-related event.”
There’s no cost to list an event and the upside is increased visibility and reach for the non-profit, increased awareness of the cause, and increased loyalty toward local sponsoring businesses. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” pronounces Hallihan.
What does he get out of it? “Anything that strengthens local communities and raises money for good causes makes me happy. At this point in my life, what I do needs to be fulfilling, fun, and work for everyone. And breaking even through ad revenue wouldn’t be so bad, either.”
If you’re a non-profit in this tri-state region of Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts and need more information or want to list an upcoming activity or fitness-based event, visit www.sportingacause.com or email Hallihan at willie@sportingAcause.com. To place an ad on the site, contact Lauren Trager at lauren@sportingAcause.com.