People Do The Darndest Things - Especially For Good Causes

A little over a year ago, I found myself at a working lunch in a neighborhood Mexican restaurant, trying to figure out how to raise money for the Open Door Family Medical Center, a local nonprofit we all supported.     

For the second year in a row, the restaurant’s owners had generously offered to contribute a percentage of sales during a designated period up to $4,000. We were tasked with building upon that commitment to raise much more.

The first idea to emerge was the obvious option: hold a benefit dinner or lunch at the restaurant. We were all so sick of going to such events and of cajoling our friends to attend them that we almost tossed our guacamole at the prospect.

At that point, the waiter brought over a stainless steel bowl of marinated chile peppers. I held up a bright red one, looked across the table at one of my dining companions and blurted out: “Joyce, I’ll donate $50 to Open Door if you’ll eat this hot pepper right now.”



Joyce passed on risking indigestion, but a very successful fundraising idea was born. We enlisted 25 of the center’s supporters to pledge to publicly eat a hot pepper in exchange for donations from their friends and family. The Open Door Chili Pepper Challenge raised over $40,000 with very low fundraising costs and attracted a very enthusiastic crowd of chili eaters and donors.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is not new – the first CROP Hunger walk was held in 1969 – but our little fundraiser for Open Door symbolizes the diversity of activities leveraging this strategy.

Reflecting this trend, last month we changed the name of the group I founded to share best practices in this field from the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. At the same time, we released our annual study of America’s 30 highest grossing peer-to-peer fundraising programs.

Massive traditional events such as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life ($380 million) Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure ($107 million) and American Heart Association Heart Walk ($106 million) still dominate the list, but the number of different types of activities represented was unprecedented.   Besides runs, walks and rides, there were programs built around bowling, dancing, growing mustaches, shaving heads, spinning, shooting hoops and jumping rope.

Proactive nonprofits are doing their homework to identify activities that will attract new supporters.    The range is tremendous from staging winter undie runs and mud runs for millennials (check out the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Muckfest and The Children’s Tumor Foundation’s Cupid’s Undie Run) to partnering with the American Contract Bridge League to raise money for the Azheimer’s Association by staging bridge marathons as part of The Longest Day.

All of which begs the question: What would you do for a good cause?

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