Please advise on how to organize an Alleycat style bike event fundraiser for my nonprofit workplace, and how to make it AMAZINGLY FUN.
October 20, 2010 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Please give me some advice on how to organize an Alleycat style bike event fundraiser for my nonprofit workplace, and how to make it AMAZINGLY FUN.

I work at a Minneapolis sustainable food systems-related nonprofit, and we are thinking about doing an Alleycat style bike event fundraiser for ourselves next year, probably in the fall. This is our first time trying to do an event like this, and I am doing the preliminary research to see what bases we would need to cover to make it happen. I have other event planning experience, but haven't done something like this before and there are a lot of things I don't know. I would appreciate advice from anyone who has participated in this kind of event about what things can make it great/not so great, and I would especially appreciate advice from anyone who has helped put on such an event about whatever they wish they would have known ahead of time.

I've read a past question on how to get sponsors, but any recent advice on that would be great. I'm very concerned about safety and insurance issues, since events I have planned in the past have not had that extra danger component. We want the event to spread publicity for our org in addition to raising funds, but any thoughts on how to make sure we make money putting this on would be very appreciated. I will not be able to pitch the event unless we have a strong case for the fundraising component.

For those who want more information on what we have thought of so far (if you don't please skip the following):
We are still in the very early stages here so please forgive my naivety, but allow me to describe our preliminary plan to see if you deem it feasible: In alley cat style, we will not plot out a course for riders, but instead will give them a list of destinations (10 or so) in the city that have significance to our organization. We will give a certain time that people need to be at the final destination, but they can visit the others however they like. We will give them the addresses and a map on which they can chart their own courses. I have heard that this eliminates the need to get expensive insurance for the event, but please tell me if that's not the case. We would give some time at the start of the race for people to check out the maps and locations, since they wouldn't be revealed ahead of time. At each stop, we would like to have some person or activity, with the idea being that riders would be learning about our organization as they do the ride. We hope that this means we will not only raise funds, but also get some publicity for our org. We have also thought about having a list of questions about our org that riders could try to find answers for, one for each destination, or having people collect some kind of tokens hidden at each location.

We don’t want this to be a very competitive race, and would encourage people to participate as they feel comfortable—so a new rider could just visit half of the destinations, while a seasoned biker could try to do all ten. We could offer prizes not only for the fastest person, but also for whomever got answers to the most questions or who had the craziest outfit or who collected the most tokens etc. The focus would not be on speed, but more on visiting cool places around the city and spreading the word about what we do. The final destination would host a party for the participants, probably with an address from our president and hopefully some other fun draws. Our city is very biker-friendly, but of course I am worried about safety. We want it to be something families could participate in together.

Our org is related to sustainable food issues, so in addition to visiting our headquarters we would visit restaurants that promote local farms, farmers markets, community gardens, co-ops, and the locations of some offshoots that we started. If you have any ideas about how to incorporate the theme of sustainable food into an Alleycat, or what kinds of activities we could do, I would love to hear them.

As far as fundraising goes, we had brought up the idea of a $25 dollar entrance fee (it’s our 25th anniversary year) that participants could raise by asking around for sponsorship. It would be great if the participants could tell other people about our cause while trying to raise the money, gaining us publicity at the same time. Perhaps we could have some prize for people who go above and beyond and raise extra money, too.

So, I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of important things. If you have any advice based on your experience, I would be very grateful if you would share it. I am planning on talking to local groups who have put on similar events as well (both for advice and to make sure our event doesn't conflict with anyone else's) but Metafilter always seems to come through so I wanted your perspective.

Thanks so much!
posted by ialwayscryatendings to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would advise, actually against it, as alley cats are really dangerous and if someone gets hurt, it's sort of a bummer. If you're doing it for an actual fundraiser, for an actually org, it's sort of goes against the anarchy that one can really be.

Not to say you shouldn't do an event like this - I would really encourage a small, tight course, maybe even a loop with many checkpoints, with each checkpoint having some sort of other thing you have to do - for example, for 06/06/06, there was a race where you had to eat a deviled egg before the grand départ, a checkpoint would make you find a themed word in a word search, one made you play, like a 'round of twister, another had you get off your bike and do a small course on a tricycle. I would also suggest that you allow all the checkpoints to be done in whatever order you'd like, so no one checkpoint has too many people at it. The pie trick at the beginning is a lot of fun (this was a time trial type race). One alleycat I participated had a multiple choice quiz about the history of the city at each checkpoint.

The only other part is to get a bunch of people that will work the checkpoint and have the start/finish be some place that's fun to hang out in, for a few hours. Maybe with beer.

For the fundraising aspect, of course of a small, "donation" to be a part of the race and get local shops to throw in shwag for a raffle, or whatever. As well as the main event, consider a few games of foot down, or bike soccer, or bike polo or just sprints.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:53 PM on October 20, 2010

I would also advise against an alleycat race focusing on speed (speaking as a commuting cyclist, racer, and race-marshal/ride-marshal) as I consider alleycats to be dangerous and a selfish way of using a public space.

However, I like your idea of people using different routes. Maybe you could get people to use gps tools (smart-phones, gps) and plot traces on a map in real time. People could get points on the most unused route between two points. Participants could get sponsorship from people in advance on a 'per mile' basis, and then based on the amount of distance they ride they would raise that amount of money.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:10 PM on October 20, 2010

One-off event-based fundraising in general is illadvisable because it requires a load of staff planning and a huge risk of failure due to weather or other unforseeable happenings.

There's also a reason why alleycats and their ilk are thrown by loose-knit, informally organized cohorts. The liability is for being sued and, IANAL, but I'm pretty sure anybody can sue you for anything and you've gotta invest time in court and money in lawyers whether you win or lose. You're also limiting your fundraising demographic to a pretty small subset of pretty thrifty people who are into bike culture and further narrowing your target down to competitive people. I love me some bike fun, but I'd probably skip your event.

WABA in DC has a bike prom. Free Geek in Portland has street fairs (not explicitly bike themed, but there's an overlap). The Community Cycling Center has theme rides, which sounds closest to your idea, but they're already a bike nonprofit and the rides are weatherproofed by theme ("worst day of the year ride").

A sustainable food nonprofit trying to shoehorn itself into a bike theme sounds not fun. A sustainable food nonprofit with yummy food booths, bike valets and music and an auction or raffle and maybe a bike blender smoothie maker sounds like fun.

Bike-in movies are also super fun and low key from a planning prospective (and easy to replicate once you put the pieces together). Bonus points for powering the projector by bike (hint: this is super finicky and loud and you probably want to cheat and precharge a UPS and a laptop anyway, but it's a fun gimmick and it gives the competitive kiddos something to do.)

Alternately, alternately, I attended part of a DC bike event in a bar that had stationary bike timetrial races with the Goldsprints software. Pretty boring to me, but the lycra, messenger and one-upmanship kiddos seemed to be having a blast.
posted by Skwirl at 3:49 PM on October 20, 2010

Best answer: 1. Cranksgiving rather than alleycat race:

2. Insurance will be necessary for any bicycle event. Cheapest is to register your organization with the League of American Bicyclists, then purchase their insurance and a rider for the special event. That will cost about $35 for membership, $84 for the overall insurance policy, and $1.50 per special event participant. You register the special event with them beforehand, then send in the extra fee after it's done (it's based on the number of participants, which you won't know until the event if finished).
posted by flug at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd encourage you to reframe it away from "alleycat" - perhaps something like "urban brevet" or "fun ride" to downshift the competitive element. A ride (yes, perhaps too with prizes for first finishers) more so than a race. Alleycats are not inherently more dangerous than riding around a city, but you might have wider appeal not calling it an alleycat. Something more along the lines of a scavenger hunt?

You can get sponsors and supporters most effectively if you know people at shops, local parts/gear suppliers and makers. Cold requests are a lot more hit-or-miss.

You want to give participants good reason to participate. And you want to make it easy and fun for them, not hard - don't expect them to do too much work on your behalf. They're your customers. I'm not sure I'd want to pay to just ride around and *learn* about your org (though, as a new MPLS resident interested in bikes and food systems, I am quite curious) - you'll have to provide them with something. A party, food, booze, prizes - think it through. Collaborate with other organizations, artists, musicians - anything to both build buzz, appeal, draw and 'cross-polination' as well as to make each stop hilarious and awesome. Or just get the funnest people you know to treat every checkpoint like their own party, and give them the liberty to do what they will to participants. There should be a raging party at the end with a good reason (rad DJ? awesome band?) - and there you can find more ways to raise money. maybe a raffle? Sell food and beer?

also, yes, Cranksgiving should help you think of ways to combine food and bikes.

all that said, ditto to Skwirl's comment about one-off event fundraising. this might be difficult to do well if you don't exactly know what to do or how to do it.
posted by entropone at 7:41 AM on October 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your thoughtful responses so far!

I think the idea of shifting away from calling it and "alleycat" is a wise one--I know it started with bike messengers, but I didn't realize it had such strong connotations of danger and law-breaking (which reveals how naive I am!). This year, I participated in the "Babes in Bikeland" all female alleycat style bike race, and it wasn't competitive or intimidating in that way at all--it was more about people getting together to enjoy riding around the city. I definitely am going to talk to the organizers of that event for some advice.

That information about League of American Bicyclists is great--thanks so much.

Definitely a party at the end, and definitely some swag from local merchants to give away. I would like to work with a lot of local shops and producers as far as sponsorship goes, and my own plan is to enlist local bands for the final celebration.

I would definitely love more ideas about what would make this sound fun. If you were a potential participant, what would make you want to come?
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 8:39 AM on October 21, 2010

Check into the term 'Rally' as opposed to alleycat.

You should also TOTALLY have a style component. I raced (ONE TIME ONLY oh god I was so slow) in one here, and while my team was very close to DFL, we were in the top 5 for style and that was AWESOME. (bike riding tutus FTW!)
posted by bibliogrrl at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2010

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