This is the second interview feature in our Lessons in Successful Fundraising series profiling successful charity event organisers to learn how they unite supporters for their cause.

James Wright, Sue Ryder

Can piggybacking on third-party events give charities all the fundraising rewards with less of the risk? For Sue Ryder, the strategy is paying dividends.

As Senior Event Manager James Wright explains, the charity is involved in around 20 third party mass-participation events, like marathons and cycle rides, each year, raising in excess of £900,000. Meanwhile, the hospices run their own events at a local level.

“The benefit is we don’t have to worry about the logistics of the day itself, which gives us more time to focus on helping our supporters to fundraise, more time to develop content for them and more time to recruit teams to those events,” he says.

“The ultimate plus point is it means we can be involved in numerous events around the country and that gives our supporters choice. While there’s the potential to raise more in gross income by organising our own events, there’s also a risk in doing that. This way we can be involved in some big events and also some emerging events without putting everything on the line.”

When it comes to the events it participates in, Sue Ryder has a tiered system; national events, big events near their care centres, and new, innovative events. It uses the interests of its own events team to help find the next big thing.

“We’re all runners, cyclists and trekkers so we look at events that appeal to us,” says James. “We like to get involved alongside our supporters. For example, two team members are running the Royal Parks in October.”

When the team finds an event they think could be popular, they’ll test the water by buying a small number of places.

“We’re looking at a running event in Berkshire next year where we might just take 10 places and see how that goes. We’ll see how it is working with the organisers, if those 10 places get snapped up quickly and what experience people have.”

On the other hand, for a prestigious event like the London Marathon, Sue Ryder will aim to secure as many places as it can, says James: “Those places are like gold dust. When people have them they hang onto them because they can make a fortune for their charities.”

According to James, the pulling power of events like the London Marathon can be both a blessing and a curse: “We’ve tried explaining to supporters that the London Marathon is exactly the same distance as a local marathon but it doesn’t really work that way. They want that buzz, the crowd, the chance to be on TV. These types of events can be more expensive for us to be involved in but we want to give our supporters the chance to do that on our behalf.”

Credit: Sue Ryder

Major mass-participation events have scores of charities vying for participants. Sue Ryder relies on local engagement to secure supporters – reaching out to the communities around their 11 UK care centres.

“We have a fantastic team of community fundraisers around the country who promote not only their own events but also the big national events as well,” says James. “It’s invaluable to us as a team based in London to have people on the ground in the local communities in which we work.”

As a result of the grassroots marketing, the bulk of the charity’s participants do come from within a 30-mile radius of one of its care centres. A great deal of them have also experienced the neurological care, palliative care and bereavement care first-hand.

“People often want to give back by taking part, they want to help fund the care for other people,” says James. “Sometimes it can also be a statement. It can be therapeutic or cathartic to put yourself through the wet Sunday morning runs and complete a marathon, especially if you have recently lost someone.”

For potential supporters who are not so familiar with the work of Sue Ryder, James and his team aim to have a big presence at the events the charity takes part in.

“If people have seen us there and have seen our cheer points on the side of the road, then hopefully they will want to run for us the following year,” he says. “We also work with the event organisers to advertise on their sites and purchase data from them so we can talk to people who are already interested.

“Usually that data comes from people entering the ballot for places and we then prepare our comms around that – either ‘good luck’, ‘congratulations’ or ‘commiserations’. Whatever it might be, we encourage them to support us.”

Once a supporter has been secured, and signed up for a challenge event, they automatically become a member of Team Incredible. Through this initiative, participants are supported to prepare and fundraise.

“We really like to get to know them so we have quite a structured email journey,” says James. “However, we know through our open rates those emails don’t always land so we also call and meet up with people. We might invite them for a pint or to meet us at one of our hospices.”

James tries to connect with supporters in the ways that suit them best. This extends to providing a choice of mediums for the content the charity produces.

He says: “We’ve been developing lots of video round-ups of our advice, such as training advice, how to set up a fundraising page, fundraising activity you can take part in and what really works. We’ve been hosting lots of Facebook live events as well. Next up on our list – we’re looking at audio content; something people can listen to on their way to work.”

He adds that they are also trying to take that training support offline:“Recently we started hosting a weekly running club in the lead up to the Cheltenham Half Marathon. That face-to-face interaction, both with our team in Leckhampton and with each other, has been fantastic for building a sense of team.”

Credit: Sue Ryder

Sue Ryder has recently switched to Eventbrite for its registration and ticketing, while James also uses the platform for the events he organises for the Event Manager’s Forum, a special interest group of the Institute of Fundraising.

He says: “It’s fantastic being able to see things at a glance; how many people have signed up, how many used the discount code. Because I’m really geeky I can also do that through the Eventbrite Organiser app on the train – I can see how things are going any second of the day.”

Looking at the data, 2018 looks like it’s stacking up to be a good year for James and his team. The London Marathon team alone raised £10,000 more than the year before, funding 10 weeks of hospice care.

Says James: “In total last year we raised £935,000 – about £548 per participant, which was a great result for us but it does set us up for having to hit a million this year. That’s what we’re aiming for!”

If you have a passion for a particular cause and want to run your own purpose-driven event, check out our Event Creator’s Guide to Purpose-Driven Events as well as your list of unique fundraising ideas.

Want to help Sue Ryder hit its target? Whether it’s a run, a ride or a swim, discover the events you can participate in.

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