By Molly Fast
I’ve had the pleasure of working on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series since 2003, and the event has grown, exploded, then steadied and hummed along for 20 years. Although there have been many changes over these two decades, one thing has remained the same: the strength, commitment and passion of the incredible community.
At the end of the day, while we have an opportunity to support causes that matter to us through the work we’re lucky enough to get to do, it’s still a job. And like any other job, it can come with frustrations and challenges. But unlike many other fields, we have the immense privilege and pleasure of being surrounded by people who are committed to making the world a better place.
In my tenure working in nonprofit event fundraising, I’ve seen my share of events. And while it’s absolutely kicked up a notch (or 10) on the Komen 3-Day, a common theme within our industry is this: The fortitude of your community is so important (#understatement), and if you cultivate those relationships correctly and intentionally, you can turn your attendees into lifelong supporters and organizational advocates.
Here are five tips to build and sustain a strong community to ensure your participants keep coming back and feel like valued members of your event:
1. Year-round relationships: You cannot only talk to and engage with your community during the event season. Your participants will feel more integrated into your organization if they hear from you all year. Do you reach out to your participants (or at least your VIPs) to wish them a happy birthday? If they’re participating in your event because of a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one, do you know when those anniversary dates are? Making meaningful connections like these will create an environment filled with people who know and feel that the organization they support truly cares.
2. Ask for feedback and implement changes based on what you hear: We all love to be heard. While we’d also love to get our own way, we know that’s not always possible. But your community evolves when there’s a vehicle for your participants to provide feedback, and you can make changes based on what you’ve heard and learned. When other people in your community understand that listening and changing is part of the culture, it fosters a climate where participants are willing to invest even more time and energy knowing that their opinions are valued.
3. Create opportunities for connection during the off-season: I understand that Zoom is so, like, 2020, but it’s still a really good tool for bringing your community together in a virtual capacity. On the 3-Day we’ve hosted a holiday social hour for the past three years. It’s been a fun way to close out the series and to set the stage for all the newness that comes with January. Depending on the activity of your event, are there opportunities throughout the year to bring people together? A training ride/walk, etc. with a representative from your organization who can greet people and treat them to bagels and coffee afterwards is a great way to connect before you get on event. Do you have a Facebook group? If yes, do you monitor and contribute to this daily? This is another amazing chance to extend the in-person community into another virtual space that allows your participants to support and connect with one another 365 days a year. They get to build the community they want, and you get to sit back and support it from afar. Speaking of…
4. Recognize that the community builds the community: If done right, your event becomes the framework on which a larger community is built. One of the largest and most successful participant teams of the 3-Day series hosts training walks all 12 months, with 20 – 50+ attendees during the event season and in the off-season. They recruit people to follow along on the route to pick up any walkers who can’t keep going, to cheer them on, to provide snacks and hydration. This team is so much more than a team; they are a family. While the 3-Day may have been the original reason that brought them all together, it’s the depth of their communal bond that has kept it going for so many years. We see this all the time (not just the 3-Day), where little communities made up of family and friends surround others in their shared pain and purpose to rise above, make a difference, and give back. It’s a beautiful thing to witness, and lovely to see how this not only changes but also grows with each passing year.
5. Wear your heart on your sleeve: It shouldn’t be hard to care in the environment that we get to work in. We are surrounded by sad, heart-wrenching and heavy stories of loss. We are also surrounded by wildly inspiring people who are resilient and motivating in their singular focus to make the world a better place. They deserve the very best of us. They deserve to have us meet their resiliency and vulnerability with our authentic selves. Be open about your ties to the cause, about your motivations for doing this work and about the ways in which you’ve been cracked open and inspired to keep doing this work. I promise, your community will feel even more connected when they know you have wants, needs and feelings similar to those that drive their participation.
We’d love to hear how you orchestrate organizational development within your spaces. There are so many powerful tactics to get the job done, and no one-size-fits-all approach. Our communities may be similar or vary when looking at any number of demographics, but one thing remains universally true: we are in the glorious business of meeting, moving, and motivating people. And, as always, business is good.
Molly leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Series and feels privileged to work with our participant-facing (customer service) team. For over 16 years with Event 360, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of people with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way, whether it’s talking them through a fundraising plan on the phone, or giving them a hug out on the route.