3 min Read
April 28, 2010

Grassroots and On-Brand? Unheard of!

On a recent weekend, my wife and I attended a grassroots fundraiser thrown by a friend of ours, who is a participant in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program.

For more and more organizations, volunteer-led fundraisers have become an important revenue stream. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has created a powerful fundraising mechanism with its Team in Training program, a mechanism that many other nonprofits strive to emulate.

According to the website, Team in Training got its start in 1988, when a fine fellow named Bruce Cleland formed a running team that raised funds and trained to run the New York City Marathon in honor of Cleland’s daughter Georgia, a leukemia survivor. Thirty-eight runners raised $322,000. Since those days, Team in Training has grown enormously, with more than 40,000 runners, walkers, cyclists, hikers, and triathletes participating in marathons, triathlons, hiking adventures, and bicycle rides to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Not too shabby.

staying on brand without knowing anything about the brand

Team in Training participants are required to raise a certain dollar amount, depending upon the event they sign up for. Our friend, for example, who will be doing a hike across the Grand Canyon, has to raise $6,400. What he doesn’t raise, he has to cover with his own money. So he has some real incentive to raise some cash. He’d gotten donations and commitments from a few people, but he was still coming up short.

When he started thinking about throwing a fundraising event, he played to his strengths. He knows a lot of talented musicians, particularly singers. Hence, “Cabaret for a Cure” was born. He called in favors, found a space, scrounged together raffle prizes, and promoted the heck out of it.

For nonprofits, grassroots fundraisers can be a real wildcard, from a branding point of view. Nonprofits need their volunteers’ excitement and fundraising moxie. But how will that grandfather five states away use your logo? Will that enthusiastic volunteer use profanity (or other language inappropriate to your organization’s personality) due to her passion? Giving up control of your communications like that can feel very unsettling.

The Team in Training program has one solution: give the volunteers lots of decorative materials. Our friend had a roll of large, perforated Team in Training logos made out of garbage bag-type plastic that he could just tear off and put up. Brilliant. He’d created signs for his specific event that appeared to have been made from a template provided, I assume, by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Easy. He had brochures, pins, even shirts to give away. Generous.

I should perhaps point out that our friend is the ideal person to host a grassroots fundraiser, not only because of his dedication to the cause, but also because he pays attention to every detail. He doesn’t work in marketing and may or may not know about branding, but he wanted everything to look just right.

Team in Training materials are purple. So he embraced purple for all aspects of his event. He put purple tablecloths on the tables. He filled purple balloons with helium. He baked cupcakes and gave them purple frosting. He even asked the performers to wear purple on stage.

From a purely marketing and communications standpoint, our friend should win a special award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With any grassroots event, there are many places where the branding can go awry. But this guy nailed it just by following his instinct and paying attention to detail. Every nonprofit would be lucky to have a grassroots fundraising volunteer like this on their team.

But of course the real measure of success for a good fundraising event is whether it met its financial goals. Yes, it did.

And my wife and I got a pretty enjoyable evening out of it too.

Dan Gunderman

Dan Gunderman is the Former Creative Director at Big Duck

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