Interviews

Webinar Recap: Ellen McElligott at the Pat Tillman Foundation

on June 13, 2018

Did you get a chance to check out our webinar, 10 ways to modernize your next endurance event? If not, no worries, we’ve got everything you need to know right here.

In May, CrowdRise teamed up with Ellen McElligott at the Pat Tillman Foundation to learn about how nonprofits can take your event to the next level.

We consider Ellen and her team endurance rock stars, so we wanted to see how they were able to grow their main event, Pat’s Run, into one of the top 10 races in the country, as well as grow their overall endurance program over the years.   

Watch the video of our interview with Ellen at the Pat Tillman Foundation:

What's your role at Pat Tillman Foundation and what are your daily responsibilities?

I'm the Director of Development. So I'm essentially responsible for all fundraising pieces of the foundation. That's everything from Pat's Run sponsorship, individual and corporate giving, foundation giving, and overseeing two staff members. One of them is Ethan Armstrong, who handles all Pat Tillman third-party events and gift processing. Most of my day-to-day is bigger picture strategy, as opposed to daily operation.

Endurance is kind of your forte. What do you think Pat Tillman does really well in the endurance space and where do you still feel like you still have room to grow and improve?

We've really done a great job of engaging runners. My coworker, Ethan, has started a Pat Tillman newsletter, and he tries to do it once a month in the main training season.

It's everything from interviewing a runner, asking, “Why are you running?” or “What inspires you to run?” Or getting an alumni runner, whether or not they're running this year or they've run in the past, and having them talk about their experience and how it felt to finish that race on behalf of the Pat Tillman Foundation.

In regard to growing, I think definitely scaling is a huge part of it. We've doubled our Chicago marathon runners. When I started, we only had about 20 runners, and now we have 57 runners signed up and fundraising tables already set up for Chicago Marathon 2018. We're also doing Honolulu this year. We’ve started seeing more engagement on the Pat Tillman individual side, but I think there's a lot of room to grow there.

You mentioned doubling your numbers for the Chicago Marathon. Is there anything that you think you could attribute that to?

This year we offered a promotion after the lottery closed. The promotion was that any current team fundraising runner, alumni team runner, or anyone they referred, we would pick up the registration fees for the Chicago marathon and we would give them one of our automatic spots.

So one, the folks are kind of already vetted, so we're not concerned about how they're going to be as a team member. But two, we also think they've already kind of bought into who we are and what we do, so they’re not just using us for bibs. They're actually running for us because of who we are.

And we started charging credit cards. Because of that, we're raising more money, which means that Chicago Marathon is willing to offer us more spots. We've now been able to prove that we're doing a good job at it.

The other thing that has been a huge help this year is that we started having team captains. So it's not just Ethan or myself rambling in an email — it's one of their own. So last year, we had a Tillman Scholar for both Chicago and New York City. This year for Chicago, it's going to be a three-time Pat Tillman member that's captaining Chicago. He's also one of our top fundraisers in the last few years. So he can actually be able to say, "Listen, I'm not a scholar, but this is my third year doing this. This is how you fundraise. This is why I come back to support the Pat Tillman Foundation year in, year out."

You guys are gearing up for Pat's Run right now. What's the key to putting something like that on successfully and making sure everything goes smoothly?

Pat's Run is its own beast. It's a 28,000 person race. I think this year it's the 10th largest road race in the country.

So one, we start our planning ahead. We will close out Pat's Run this year, take a few weeks off, but then we’re already cultivating potential sponsors in late summer. On the sponsorship side, once we do our recap with current sponsors, the same day we do the recap, we also hit them with sponsorship for the 2019 race. So we start that early.

We have a very dedicated volunteer base and we start recruiting them in the fall, as well. We also have our race committee, and we put a lot of it on them to make sure that we're really keeping true to what the race should be. That we're not making it too corporate.

Then we have hard deadlines. We set these earlier than they actually have to be, so it encourages us to stay ahead of the game and keep on track. Because, at the same time we're ready to launch registration, it's the holiday giving campaign, it's Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we’re closing everything out for the end of the year. Having this really great schedule that kind of benchmarks out your due date throughout the entire year helps keep us on track.

Any advice you would give to people who are struggling to motivate those zero dollar fundraisers?

Yeah, that's a constant challenge. Last year when we were in the same position, we actually did personal outreach to every one of them. They weren't Mailchimp emails, they weren't Facebook posts not tailored to them. We sent out individual emails from Ethan and Christopher to ask, "I see you set up a fundraising page. Is there a reason you haven't fundraised? Do you want to hop on the phone?"

Then, we broke down what the common concerns are about fundraising and had responses for them to get ahead of it. So, "I don't like asking my friends and family for money." And working with them on how to alleviate some of those concerns. That's been helpful.

But also, just having really good fundraising incentives. People like stuff. We make our incentives either things we have on hand, like headphones that were donated, so they're very low risk to us.

So the combination of the personalized outreach as well as the, “if you fundraise, you can get this cool thing in return.” We find those two things really, really help the zero dollar folks.

I know you guys are using our ChronoTrack integration in your fundraising efforts for the events. Can you talk a little bit about how you're using them to help fuel your event fundraising?

One of our challenges at Pat's Run is that, the day of the race, other than some T-shirts, we don't generate revenue. And we're capped on registrations and, for the most part, we have a hard-cap on sponsorship. So how else do you bring money in?

So in ChronoTrack last year, we started using addons in check out. One of them was a hat last year. We were charging basically market price, as opposed to wholesale, but we also didn't have to place that order until right before the race, so we didn't have extra product sitting on hand. We weren't really putting any money into it in advance, and it was a very easy way to generate extra money.

The other thing we've done in ChronoTrack is give people the option to mail their bib and package to them, and we're able to create a little revenue off that. This year we're doing a T-shirt and a hat and a mailer bib. It's not a ton of effort on our part, but it's also a way for us to raise a little bit of money throughout this process.

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Rilee Chastain

Rilee Chastain is the Content Marketing Specialist at CrowdRise. She is passionate about content optimization and all things social, and cares way too much about her Instagram aesthetic. She also has a life goal to eat mac and cheese at least 3 times a week.

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