The Ride For Roswell
Since its founding in 1996, The Ride For Roswell has raised more than $20 million in unrestricted funds for patient care and research at Buffalo, New York’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the nation’s first cancer center, established in 1898.
The Ride began in 1995 when Flynn & Friends president Mitch Flynn took his idea for a grassroots fundraising event to the board of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.
With a green light from the Roswell Park Alliance, the Institute’s volunteer fundraising body, Flynn & Friends developed the branding, promotion, and event structure for the Ride, which launched in 1996 with 1,000 riders and a gross of just over $100,000. The agency continued to provide almost all of the Ride’s marketing, most of it pro bono, through 2006, the year the Ride broke the $1 million mark.
For its first seven years, The Ride enjoyed steady but unspectacular growth. But then, in 2003, something truly remarkable happened: It reached a tipping point.
Here’s the story of how that happened, and the role Flynn & Friends played in making the Ride the most successful single-day fundraiser in Western New York – and an event that creates hope and happiness for thousands of individuals every year.
Creating a true marketing epidemic.
The Ride For Roswell “tipped” sometime between 2003 and 2004. No, “tipped” doesn’t mean it fell over – although that can happen on a bike. (Which is why you should always wear a helmet when you ride.) It means, in the language of epidemiology made popular by author Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, that this special event reached a point of critical mass that saw its fundraising increase exponentially – from $300,000 in 2003 to $3.1 million in 2011. “Sticky ideas” – one of our specialties – were one of the factors that contributed to this growth.
What’s a sticky idea?
A message has to “stick” to make an impact, and we’re good at crafting communications that increase that factor. To wit: an easy to say and remember name married to a cleanly designed logo and a short and benefit-driven tagline: (“Helping cure cancer is as easy as riding a bike.”) And to make an idea stick literally, just add adhesive: we designed wearable, sticky-backed “I’m riding for…” labels with space to write the names of friends and loved ones below. The leader of this trend was a cancer survivor dubbed “sticker guy” who covered himself with dedication labels as he rode his old beater bike on the 20-mile route. That's him waving at right.
Another conscious effort was made to connect the event’s ridership to the cancer cause in the shape of a 5’ x 5’ t-shirt placed at the starting line which participants used as a canvas to write messages to honor and remember friends and family with cancer.
Among the other ways we made the message stick was to create guides for riders, team captains, and volunteers; the event’s annual registration folder, and later, its first website; e-mail countdown blasts; and a sponsor-underwritten “Fundraising Toolkit” that consisted of a box containing pre-written, printed fundraising letters and postcards, blank cards and envelopes for hand-written thank-yous and solicitations, and an updated Fundraising Guide.
Leveraging the power of context and individual effort.
It's probably no coincidence that the year the Ride was founded was also the year that Lance Armstrong was treated for cancer – and that he claimed his record 7th consecutive Tour de France victory on the Ride's 10th anniversary. So in the conjunction of cycling and cancer, the first 10 years of the Ride had a parallel American hero – Lance Armstrong. (Although his aura has since been tarnished by reveleations of doping and corecion, there's no denying that Armstrong's wins contributed to the Ride's success.) But the Ride had its own set of heroes, too.
One of the ideas of The Tipping Point is that epidemics are spread by just a few people – identified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. They are the agents of contagion in the epidemic of word of mouth - which even in this age of tweets and blogs and multimillion dollar Super Bowl commercials is still the most important form of human communication.
In 2003, we acknowledged and formalized this fact with the creation and branding of a Ride sub-group dubbed the “Extra Mile Club” – individuals who brought in $1,000 or more. In its first year, there were 26 members; in 2012, there were 790. We further spotlighted this group through the design of customized riding jerseys worn on Ride day exclusively by members of the EMC.
A record of measurable results.
Starting in 2003, The Ride grew from $300,000, to $500,000, to $800,000; broke the $1 million dollar mark in 2006, the $2 million mark in 2008, the $3 million mark in 2011, and neared $4 million in 2012. That’s an epidemic at work – the kind of growth that’s a marketing dream for most organizations.
The virtue of an epidemic is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread faster than measles in a second grade classroom. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to anyone who's trying to create a change with limited resources. And that’s a description of most of the people who choose to do business with us.
The Point Of All This
To say The Ride For Roswell far exceeded expectations would be an understatement. To say Flynn & Friends had everything to do with that would be a gross overstatement. But somewhere in the middle is the value of our insight, creativity, strategic thinking, and experience.
The point of all this is that we know the best way(s) to reach the right audience with the right message at the right time in order to generate friends, funds, followers, fame – or whatever it is that your particular organization may need or desire.
Contact us and we can tell you more. The Ride For Roswell is a great story. We’d love to be able to tell yours in the same way.
The Ride has grown exponentially since 2003 – the year it "tipped".