I raised $7,000 in less than 10 days for cancer research and then I rappelled a 36 story high rise building in downtown Denver.
As a cancer patient, a cancer advocate and with a fiery determination to survive, today I want to talk strategies and tactics about how to get the ABSOLUTE most out of your fundraising efforts.
But first, lets dig into the details of advocacy, fundraising and most importantly how patient DATA all go hand in hand.
Today, I am taking the last targeted therapy available to me for my ALK+ mutation and I have gone through a myriad of side effects. I have choked down all five medications that are currently available for my lung cancer. One did not effectively manage my cancer, or my cancer got smart and caused the metastasis in my brain to grow unchecked and called “innumerable” by a radiologist.
It’s something that I’ve grown to know and accept in my cancer journey. No medication will last forever and eventually the cancer gets ahead of the medication and there will be disease progression. Every single time. There is no cure. That’s why I’m metastatic, terminal and incurable.
I just hope that the next time won’t result in 3 seizures and ((my wife saving my life… again)).
Here’s the thing about fundraising as a cancer patient.
You MUST Do These 3 Things First!
First: Find out if, for your particular cancer, there is a data registry.
You can find one for lung cancer here at the Lung Cancer Registry
Why? We can do all the fundraising in the world… but what in the hell are the researchers going to research if they have NO DATA? Your data, your side effects, your exact journey is an invaluable data point for research. In order to be truly and genuinely helpful you must share your data.
Yeah, we’re all fu**ing guinea pigs. Get used to it.
Second: Where do the proceeds go?
Who hasn’t heard the statistics about who’s taking 50% (or more) of the proceeds for overhead? Do you know what overhead is? It’s not only the cost of the t-shirts or schwag, but it could be the cost of someone’s paycheck. If you feel they deserve to take 50% of your hard earned funds, that’s your call.
I get it, when you are running a wildly successful campaign to support research as a non-profit… there will be costs. I’m just asking you to carefully look into WHERE the proceeds are going. If you still feel that’s a good cause. My friend, you do you.
I know for a fact that in the state of Colorado, breast cancer support plates cost extra and not a single solitary dollar reaches breast cancer research. Period end of story. Your extra dollar bills to show you are supportive don’t seem to do much good, unless you consider how pretty the pink looks against your shiny black bumper.
Third: What are you actually passionate about?
If you are going to do an event, make sure it’s something you actually enjoy doing! While I *know* there are 5ks (virtual now!) happening all over the country for lung cancer research… I am NOT a 5K person. Been there. Done that. Had the T-shirt to prove it. But when you tell me that I can rappel off a building? I’m all ears. So consider what you will actually be passionate about doing, because your passion WILL help you to speak, write and show up in the beautiful way that only you can.
How to raise $7k in 10 days?
It is all about tactics my friend…
You know I’m about that planning life, about being prepared (like a boy scout!) and about passion!
Once you’ve selected the fundraiser you are wildly passionate about supporting (and my friend, it does NOT have to be about cancer research!) it’s time to dig in and set yourself up for success. Make sure you are crystal clear on how donations can be collected (especially for checks or cash).
I royally messed this one up this year. Normally, I start fundraising mid August for Over the Edge because the event is mid September. A month gives me plenty of time to do the things that I want to do to succeed.
WHO WILL DONATE?
Decide who you will talk to about your fundraiser. Make a list of everyone (and I mean everyone) you have talked to in the last year and get organized: do you have their contact info? Get it. Call or send an email, a text message, a smoke signal, Facebook message, Instagram direct message, Tweet.
It’s easy to talk yourself out of contacting people who you don’t talk to often. But, here’s the thing: you are giving them an opportunity to feel useful in your cancer journey.
Wait, what? Your friends and family and colleagues, shoot… your local coffee shop owner, mailman or Amazon delivery driver wants to know how to contribute to your success as a cancer patient. By asking for their help in a VERY specific way, you are empowering them to show their support!
Pro tip: ask face to face, if at all possible - or write a snail mail real life handwritten letter. I know, old school -- but all of us have email in-boxes that are overflowing with messages that you just ‘need to deal with’. A face to face ask is a lot harder to say no to. I mean, can you say no to the 10 year old in pig tails selling girl scout cookies?
See… that’s my point!
Handwritten letters (especially to folks who are not computer savvy, or who you are particularly close to) shows such a personalized and loving gesture! In this case, you’re the one selling girl scout cookies!
I am lucky enough to have a wide network of colleagues, family and friends from all over the country. You can bet your *ss I aim to hit up 200+ people directly, plus I put out a call on my social media.
SET A GOAL!
To rappel, I have to raise $1,500. For my wife to rappel, she has to raise $1,500. And this year, we raised DOUBLE that amount.
Setting a goal for the amount you want will empower you to have the courage to ask and as you watch that amount creep higher, you feel more and more empowered. The universe has your back and wants you to succeed - so set your goal high and watch what happens!
Side note: if you don’t hit your goal this time. Give yourself some grace. This is not easy and requires a lot of effort, practice and faith on your part. You’ll hit it next time.
CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
When it comes time to craft your message, especially if you are sending an email or posting on social media, you have to have a catchy headline. People are overwhelmed and busy and easily distracted.
My email headline this year: “Going over -- 36 stories for cancer research” Was that the best? Probably not, but all the people I send this email to have already donated before, so they know about this crazy thing that I do every year.
Keep it brief, make sure to include a few bold, italicized and underlined words for effect. If you are hyperlinking - make sure you put at least 2 (preferably one right at the top and one near the bottom). Make it a message YOU would want to read. No one wants to read a complete dissertation with no white space! Vary your sentence length and leave plenty of white space
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Open your message with your personal story, tug at the heartstrings of your reader, and make it personal to them too. You can answer a few questions to help you get clear on your message
Why are you passionate about this particular fundraiser, cause or charity?
This year my why is that I am on the last available targeted therapy and facing my fear of chemo and radiation is terrifying. I spoke about my journey for the past year after my seizures. I made a connection between my fear and the fear of rappelling off of a building.
What’s the link?
It’s important to show the direct link between researchers working on cancer and how vital funding their work is. Invite the person to contemplate on their own life. Who do they know that has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis? I think it is safe to say that today, no one is exempt.
How do I help?
Close it up with a call to action - tell them to do what you want them to do. My exact wording this year: Today I’m asking you to donate to the Denver Cancer League on behalf of my wife and I, Team Wonder Women to help fund cancer research and cancer support services here in Colorado. If you or someone in your life has been impacted by cancer you can donate today! You have the chance to save my life and change the trajectory of the path of my fellow cancer patients through your donation” (I did hyperlink directly to my donation page to make it easy).
At the end of my email, I always like to give a few shoutouts and gratitudes to the people who have supported my journey thus far! This year, because 2020 has been my year of advocacy, as a PS - I included the links to my efforts (stories I’ve been featured in, blog posts I’ve written, etc)
If you are sending via email, make sure you send the email to yourself and blind copy everyone, that way you don’t have to copy paste forever. Plus, god forbid, that prevents someone from accidentally hitting “reply all”.
You can and should definitely send a follow up email, but instead of simply re-sending it - consider adding a progress update and the closing date for your fundraising efforts! As a human, most of us work better on a deadline… “oh shi*, if I don’t do this today….”
I haven’t sent out my progress update, yet - because I was SO SLOW on my initial email, but I will this week.
It’ll say something like this
“I cannot believe we have doubled our fundraising goal so far! If you haven’t had a chance to donate yet (hyperlink here), no problem. Because of covid-19, they have extended my fundraising deadline until 12/31/20.
Here are a few pictures of the day I rappelled!
I shared this post on Facebook when I was fired up with adrenaline from going over… (and I’ll copy the wording of that post).”
SHOW YOUR GRATITUDE
Keep track of who donated, and make SURE that you send a timely thank you to each and every person. Show them your true gratitude and make it personal! I like to send a picture from the day of the event, with a personalized sentence or two for each person. That way they know you aren’t sending a blanket email. This year, I will be mailing out thank you cards to my close family and friends who donated!
Extra tip for promotion on social
If you are promoting your event on Facebook or Instagram: invite people to get involved! Ask for votes on the pieces of your outfit, or give them sneak peaks of behind the scenes! Tag the hosts of the event, or the charity you are fundraising for!
This year Denver Over The Edge was hustling in the last 30 days to find a few more rappellers, and because I was sharing my story - I had two of my fellow lung cancer warriors sign up and go over! So one person (or a team of people) can triple their fundraising power by inviting other’s to join them.
When things are all done!
Take some time to celebrate your success - you’re doing an amazing thing. It does not matter one fu**ing bit if you hit your goal, surpassed it or were under. The important thing is that when you decided to fundraise - you decided to do something powerful.
Celebrate your wins. Relish in the feeling of gratitude for your donors. Stop and look at the dollar amount and recognize the power in each of those bills. You are powerful. You are strong and you are amazing.
I celebrated my win before we even rappelled, I was lucky enough to run into my fellow lung cancer warrior Heidi. I asked the Rappel boss if the three of us could go over together. The beautiful (and also terrifying) sensation as I scooted my heels over the edge of that building, with Heidi on one side, and my wife on the other side. We crept our way over the edge, getting used to the sensation of dangling into space. We were silent, laughing, talking and encouraging one another the entire way down.
And typical Heather, I told the folks on my ropes “I’m fu**ing alive” and stepped into space.