Downtown Greens Community Greenspace is a 2.7 acre public garden in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In addition to an open greenspace for city residents to use, Downtown Greens provides environmental literacy and food access programming for both youth and adults, with an overall mission to increase food security in the Fredericksburg community. Some of the ways they do this include a Youth Farm Program that facilitates monthly farm-to-table community dinners, a Take What You Need vegetable plot and cooler, and ongoing partnerships with the local school system that teach children where their food comes from and how to maintain a garden.
Downtown Greens has dedicated supporters who consistently participate in their annual events, which have been held virtually since the pandemic began. They decided on a virtual 5K– the Downtown Runaround.
Downtown Greens used GiveSignup registration to create a virtual race with a pre-defined course for local participants to run, starting and ending in the garden. The course passed by each of their sponsors, which were almost all businesses located in the heart of downtown Fredericksburg.
- Downtown Greens raised $2100 via a soft ask for additional donations on their race website and in registration.
- Downtown Greens used GiveSignup’s free race website to host content about the race, including sponsors, a recommended race route, and even a race playlist.
- They leveraged the organic social marketing of teams and sponsors to get additional registrations, overachieving their registration goal with a total of 189 signups in their first ever race.
Downtown Greens’ main fundraising events are held later in the year (May and October). Last year, they were entirely virtual, and it’s still uncertain whether they will be in-person or virtual again this year. But Downtown Greens wanted a way to raise money now. This spring, they wanted to hold a fundraiser that would allow them to (safely) leverage the beautiful garden space and engage both community members and local businesses who support their mission.
Raising More with a Virtual 5K
- What worked: Asking for additional donations in the registration path and on the website. 30% of the money Downtown Greens raised was from donations made on top of or instead of a registration– a total of $2100 in additional donations. They accomplished this with just two soft asks for donations: a sticky Donate button on their website and the ability to donate while registering for the race.
- What worked: Using sponsors to cover the cost of swag and deliver value to participants. Downtown Greens started early by recruiting local businesses to be sponsors. Sponsors got a free registration and were featured on the race website, on social media, on the T-shirt, and in all emails about the race. In exchange for this exposure, sponsors could choose to donate to the race at one of three sponsor levels or to make an in-kind donation. For example, one sponsor, a graphic designer, designed the race logo and race T-shirt. Another donated coupons and stickers to put in the race bags. This helped Downtown Greens create a great swag bag at very little cost to them.
- What worked: Teams. Downtown Greens leveraged social teams to get additional registrations. They offered an exclusive swag item– a magnet– to incentivize supporters to create or join teams. Then they pushed teams in their social media marketing of the race. 22% of their participants joined a team.
Downtown Greens’ race swag proved very popular. They picked “Love Your Pollinators” as the theme and provided an exclusive bandana (or wall hanging!) and reusable grocery bag along with the race T-shirt, snacks, and sponsor gifts for all participants.
Saving Money with GiveSignup’s Free Tools
GiveSignup is totally free– free websites, free email, free domain hosting, free marketing tools, and free support when it’s needed. The only fees on the platform are processing fees on paid transactions, which the nonprofit can absorb, pass on to supporters, or give supporters the option to cover . Downtown Greens chose to pass on processing fees, meaning that putting on the virtual race was totally free to them. They used several free tools throughout the virtual race:
- Free, Beautiful Websites.They created a playlist for the race, which they embedded on one of the pages of the site using GiveSignup’s playlist feature. They also created a separate menu tab for the two pre-designed race courses. Finally, they built out a beautiful cover page with their branding and colors.
- Automated Emails. Downtown Greens used GiveSignup’s free email marketing system to email participants throughout the 14 day virtual race. On the first day of the race, Downtown Greens sent out an email to all participants with instructions on race routes, logging results, swag pickup, and sharing on social media. After this initial email, they set up a Registration Follow-Up email with the same content to go to each new registrant one day after they registered. Since 44% of their registrants signed up AFTER the race began on March 1, this saved hours of time for their staff because all participants automatically received all the information they needed to complete their race.
- Web Checkin. Instead of mailing out swag or doing packet pickup on a specific day, Downtown Greens decided to let their participants drop by the office to pick up their swag bags anytime during the race (March 1-14). This meant that various staff members, interns, and volunteers — whoever was in the office — were in charge of handling pickup. To make it as easy as possible, Downtown Greens used Web Checkin so that the volunteer or staff member could easily look up a participant as they arrived, verify that they hadn’t been checked in already by someone else, and get them their swag bag.
Lessons from Downtown Greens
One of Downtown Greens’ race sponsors was a video production company, who produced a 3 minute sponsor video for the race. The video showed a Downtown Greens board member running the race route and stopping at each downtown Fredericksburg business that had sponsored the race. It went live on Downtown Greens’ Facebook on the first day of the race. Their sponsors immediately shared it on each of their own Facebook pages, which drove more registrations and awareness about the race. This made sponsors feel included, showed off the race route, and created excitement about the race for participants and potential participants. They also did short sponsor spotlight videos for each sponsor and posted them on Facebook throughout the race.
Downtown Greens also continued to heavily promote the race all the way up to the last day. They intentionally scheduled the race to last two weeks, beginning on a Monday and ending on a Sunday, so that there were two weekends for people to run their race. The Downtown Greens staff set up a “finish line” outside their office and took pictures of runners and walkers as they came along to do their race, then shared them on social media. They also kept advertising the social teams element of their race and made it clear that people could still register and join teams up to the last day on March 14. This worked– they got signups and donations even on the final weekend of the race.
The Downtown Runaround was one of Downtown Greens’ most profitable fundraisers ever, according to executive director Sarah Perry. Because GiveSignup’s features are totally free and the race was virtual, they had minimal expenses. Their only significant cost was T-shirts and items for the swag bags– many of which were donated by sponsors anyway. Downtown Greens’ supporters and staff had so much fun with the Runaround that they plan to do it again every year. In 2022, they are already planning an in-person version of the race at the garden, and will retain the virtual option to engage additional supporters.