Merakey Foundation: How a Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Strategy Cultivated an Engaged & Connected Network

Background

Background

Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1969, Merakey has become a leading developmental, behavioral health, and education provider across the country.

Over the last 50+ years, they have expanded nationwide to become one the largest non-profit health and human services organizations in the United States. They work every day to offer a variety of programs to support individuals like veterans, children, and those with disabilities across the country.

To fund the wide variety of their offerings and their growth, the healthcare organization created a charitable arm, The Merakey Foundation.

Challenge

Challenge

To raise financial support, the Merakey Foundation hosts many events year-round to provide not only fundraising opportunities but engaging events for the individuals that they serve. Without these events, Merakey would not be able to serve their communities and provide resources to empower those with disabilities, addiction, or autism.

One of these events is their annual bowling tournament held nationwide at many different locations and communities. This event allows individuals impacted by Merakey’s services to get involved and give back to the organization. Over the years this bowling tournament has evolved into a fundraiser that creates a unique experience for both supporters and donors of Merakey.

The bowling tournament is usually hosted in March each year, and had to be canceled during COVID-19. Without a similar event in mind and because of the quick turnaround, the Merakey Foundation was not able to host a makeup option for the bowling tournament that their supporters loved so much.

As the year went on and the pandemic continued, the Merakey Foundation knew they could not cancel the event for a second year and needed another option.

Sara Keane, an Event Coordinator at the Merakey Foundation, and other Merakey employees started to think of how they could host a fundraising event in such an unpredictable time.

“We wanted to host an engaging event for our organization but wanted to still be mindful of the pandemic. Especially since most of the individuals we serve are at higher risk, we needed a solution that was accommodating, safe, and engaging ,” said Keane.

After collaborating as a team, they decided that the best solution was to host their very first 5k and make it virtual.

“Our team always wanted to host a 5k. We felt that this virtual environment would be the best time to do so and allow us to make up for our missed in-person fundraisers,” said Keane.

This new event idea led the Merakey Foundation to search for a fundraising solution to raise funds and reach their network nationwide.

Solution

Solution

Because this was the Merakey Foundation’s first 5k event (and a virtual one at that), they needed a software that was easy to execute and engaging. As a long-term Mobile Bidding customer, the Merakey Foundation had a deep partnership with OneCause, but had not used the Peer-to-Peer Solution. After talking through their ideas and needs, Merakey decided to leverage OneCause peer-to-peer software for their 5k event.

“We chose to use OneCause Peer-to-Peer because we trusted not only the company and software, but the support as well. We knew that the customer service and people at OneCause would be there every step of the way to help us create a new event,” said Keane.

With their partnership in place, the Merakey Foundation launched, “5k the Merakey Way, a month long virtual 5K where participants could personalize how they would complete their 5k.

From running or walking to jumping or hula hooping, the 5k created an event that not only connected individuals nationwide but allowed participants to engage in their own safe way.

To raise money and awareness, three main fundraising techniques were leveraged to enhance the giving experience in a socially distanced way:

  1. Including a Variety of Involvement Options
  2. Leveraging their Participants’ Network
  3. Maximizing the Virtual Supporter Experience

Including a Variety of Involvement Options

Over the month-long event, they wanted to be mindful of the differing ability levels of their participants, and position their 5k to not deter anyone unable to contribute in traditional running or walking activities.

Participant completing push ups

Participants completing push ups for his 5k experience

“We needed to make the 5k as inclusive for everyone connected to Merakey, and the OneCause software made it possible. Participants could do their own version of a 5k, and not solely have to run, making it a more welcoming event for those who physically could not contribute to a traditional style,” said Keane.

Supporters got creative with very personalized activities to reach their 5k goal. This flexibility allowed Merakey to include even more participants and create a welcoming fundraising environment.

Leveraging their Participants’ Networks

Through the use of their own connections, supporters of Merakey were able to join teams within the campaign and fundraise in whatever way they wanted. Participants took this opportunity to reach out to their friends, family, and peers. They also secured sponsorships for their team.

“We had a lot of participants procure sponsorships for our 5k that we did not even know! Though we had core sponsors from previous events, our participants were able to expand our reach with more sponsorships than we ever expected,” said Keane

The Merakey Foundation was also able to create innovative sponsorship levels to connect to the event’s purpose. These unique and campaign focused levels included:

  • Finish Line Sponsors
  • Virtual Water Table Sponsors
  • Starting Line Sponsors

A view of how the sponsors were displayed

These various levels allowed for sponsors to come in at any price level. In addition, these creative naming conventions were posted all over the campaign site, creating a higher sense of excitement for sponsors, and allowing them to contribute to different “portions” of the race. Ultimately, this creative approach to sponsorships and outreach allowed for bigger impact and reach for the Merakey campaign.

Maximizing the Virtual Supporter Experience  

It was important to the Merakey Foundation that their donors’ experience during the 5k was as impactful as it would have been if the event was in-person.

The Merakey Foundation was able to constantly and consistently engage with their donors through the OneCause Peer-to-Peer platform to enhance the virtual event experience.

“We were nervous engagement would be low because the event was virtual. However, we were shocked to see how incredibly involved everyone was during the event. Through the use of the OneCause software, we were still able to feel connected to the event and the participants even when not physically in-person,” said Angela Swingle, Executive Assistant at Merakey.

Such engagement types took the form of:

  1. Weekly email updates on event progress
  2. Mailing participants racing materials to increase excitement
  3. Hosting a virtual finish line to celebrate the event
  4. Tracking participants mileage with the Strava Integration
  5. Bonding participants with team fundraising functionality

 

Strava Integration Picture

Here is a glimpse of how fitness activity is tracked

 

The wide variety of engagement activities enabled participants to build a stronger bond with the campaign and stay motivated all month long. Plus, built-in communication features allowed Merakey to connect and engage with supporters in a virtual world with ease. Through their hard work and dedication to their participants, Merakey’s campaign ended with a success.

Results

Results

The Merakey Foundation saw a remarkable outcome for their very first virtual 5k experience!

  • $142,208 raised
  • $42,208 over goal amount
  • 118% increase over previous fundraising events
  • 24,498 miles recorded

Through focusing on the participant experience and leveraging their wide network, the Merakey Foundation was able to host an impactful virtual 5k event. When asked about their final thoughts on their campaign’s performance, Swingle said:

“Our experience and event were great because of the OneCause software. It was so easy to learn, and there was always constant support throughout our event. We now know how to successfully run a virtual 5k because of our experience with OneCause, and we can definitely do it again!”

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