In Uncertain Times, Build Loyalty with Stakeholders – Lessons From The Pan-Mass Challenge Decision

      For those of you who are not familiar with the Pan-Mass Challenge, or the PMC, it is the largest single athletic charity event in the country. This 2-day cycling event, founded by Billy Starr in 1980, engaged 6800 participants and raised $63 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute last year. People are motivated to give because 100% of the rider-raised funds go directly to cancer research.
     In addition to the time and effort it takes to train for the bike rides (these vary in length from 25 miles to 190 miles), participants are also asked to guarantee (with their personal credit card) $5500 each if they are doing the full 2-day ride. Many say the stress of fundraising is more than the stress of physically preparing for the ride – yet, people are committed to participating, because cancer has impacted so many loved ones.
     Given the impact of COVID-19 on many businesses, Starr made the unprecedented decision to do away with the minimum fundraising requirement for the first and only time in 40 years – recognizing that riders may have a difficult time raising money from their regular sponsors.
     See paragraph #2 from Starr’s note to all PMC cyclists. His message will likely lead to several positive behavioral outcomes:
     1. Building loyalty with fundraisers and volunteers. Taking care of the people on the front lines of the fundraising effort insures they will want to keep coming back, participating and fundraising, in years to come when the fundraising environment improves.
     2. Motivating riders by reinforcing the mission. Starr does a good job of reminding everyone of the reason they ride … because the money raised saves the lives of people with cancer. Those with the means to do so will likely dig a little deeper into their own pockets to make up for the shortfall of their sponsors.
     3. Encouraging self-motivated fundraising. Starr says “Let your conscience be your guide” regarding your donor base and “As for timing, do what feels right for you”, acknowledging that he typically encourages riders to “ask early and often”. For this year, though, his instruction is to throw the usual fundraising recipe out the window and use our best judgment on how to get the job done.

As a longtime PMC rider, I am motivated to meet my fundraising goal despite the obstacles this year, so wish me luck!

To all PMC cyclists,
     The last few weeks have been extremely stressful for everyone. All of us have been profoundly affected by this public health crisis, and part of our anxiety is not knowing when it is going to end. One thing is certain: showing compassion to one another will help us all get through this.
With that spirit in mind, the PMC is taking an unprecedented step: WE WILL NOT ENFORCE FUNDRAISING MINIMUMS FOR 2020. Do we still need each PMC rider to raise as much for cancer research and treatment as she or he can? Yes, but you don’t need the stress of having to ask donors to support your ride if you believe they don’t have the ability to do so. For 2020, we simply ask that you raise what you can, support your own ride with a gift if you have the means, and otherwise let your conscience be your guide regarding your donor base.
     As for timing, you should do what feels right for you. Normally, the PMC encourages riders to begin their fundraising early and not be afraid to ask often. If this approach feels inappropriate at this moment, you should modify your PMC fundraising for 2020 with timing that works for you and your donors.
     For 40 years, the PMC has represented hope for cancer patients everywhere by raising vital funds for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That’s not going to change in 2020. The remarkable longevity of the average PMC rider tells us that you are committed to this cause and will be in the future. Thank you, and we send you our wishes for good health.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior partner and counsel at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH. She will ride her 8th Pan-Mass Challenge for Team LUNGSTRONG, to raise money for lung cancer research, in August 2020. For more information about JJ&W, visit www.jjwpr.com. For more information about LUNGSTRONG, visit www.lungstrong.org.

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