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Why Habitat for Humanity Took Up Cycling

By Suzy DeLine

Typically, I write about trends and techniques of marketing from my vantage point of consulting at tech companies. Truth be known, I actually went to business school to study non-profit management (or marketing for mission-based organizations, as they called it).

From my time at these tech companies, I came to know the wonderful Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley. At team-building events, we’d see each other in a new light as we wielded power tools and paintbrushes for a good cause.

For a different reason, Habitat crossed my personal radar with their inaugural “Cycle of Hope” event. In addition to being a marketing nerd, I’m also an avid cyclist. The two vectors have intersected before, as I previously helped out on the marketing efforts for Heart Across America, and many a fundraising ride.

Going Along for the Ride

Learning of this ride, I signed up and persuaded one of my clients to put up a team. ;-) I was really impressed by how well done it was. In particular, they did great marketing to the cycling community (flyers at all the events, ads in Cycle California!). It made me wonder. Who was in charge? Why did they decide to try this strategy?

As fate would have it, I made this comment while collecting my post-ride ale.* The person I made the comment to was the group’s President and CEO, Janice Jansen. She graciously agreed to satisfy my curiosity about why and how. In asking how this came about, she told of a very special person.

The Ale Tent — as manned by the group’s President & CEO Jensen (far right)
plus other merry helpers.

Why a Cycling Event? (And How Do You Get It Going?)

Bob Frick, Chair of Habitat’s Foundation Board, is formerly the “get-it-done” CFO of Bank of America. With a lifelong passion for cycling, he had used his own cross-country rides to build awareness and raise funds for Habitat. It was his idea to try an event to tap into the passionate and sizeable cyclist community in this region.

It proved to be a popular idea. “There are about 400 cycling events in Northern California market each year,” according to Bob Mack, publisher of the ubiquitous Cycle California! magazine. “San Francisco Bay Area cyclists participate in local rides as well as destination rides in areas like Lake Tahoe, Klamath Falls, Solvang, etc.”

Mr. Mack continued, “The number of active riders in this area is someplace in the hundreds of thousands and over the last couple of years, we have seen many more people discovering cycling events as a fun activity, much more than in the last decade. A lot of this is due to organizations such as Habitat creating well run-events like the Cycle of Hope.”

Habitat engaged with an experienced event partner who helped them to set the logistics in place. Habitat’s events typically take place on the construction site. Their event partner helped them to take the show on the road — literally.

The decision was made to be inclusive. In addition to the 32/62/100-mile routes that typical events have, they included a shorter family ride of 17 miles and an extremely short “kids” ride. They also included many typical post-ride elements — good food, good beer, good sponsored giveaways, and a band to make it a real fest.

(*It was seriously good ale. There was so much demand for it that they ran out… now that’s a good post-ride party!)

What Success Looks Like

Habitat has had great success in building a community by working with corporations and organizations for “Build Days.” To justify doing something completely new, they’d need to have a goal that was additive.

“We expected about 300 people to register and ride, and we had a hypothesis that it would be primarily people new to Habitat, i.e., not regular volunteers,” Jensen said. “We wanted to break even, and we wanted to have an event that would be enjoyable for our existing volunteer audience, whether or not they rode. The ridership goal was doable, as we currently actively engage with thousands each year in the area.”

The Results

Drumroll… When the day rolled around to ride, they had over 600 registered riders. That surprised many who were concerned about oversaturation from the abundance of rides this area offers and the relative lateness of the event date. (Fortune favored the event with a gloriously beautiful November day.)

The “less serious” cyclists enjoy a lovely morning for their 32-mile ride.

Habitat used a variety of marketing channels to get the word out about Cycle of Hope. This included social media, their email newsletter, tabling events, targeted advertising, and partnering with local cycling groups and shops. Social media and focused outreach via cycling groups proved especially effective.

A post-ride survey showed some recommended improvements in the routes (less South Bay roads, more Peninsula hills!). However, people were overwhelmingly positive. They wanted to stay involved with the event. Hopefully, they stay engaged with Habitat’s work. And yes, the event did raise much-needed funds to support the group’s mission to add to local affordable housing options.

Existing Habitat supporters joined Cycle of Hope as riders and volunteers, but hundreds more came in with no prior connection. Gaining new admirers (enthusiastic ones, from my post-ride conversations) in this competitive environment is surely a big win.

So thank you Habitat, for all you do to help families and folks in need. And thank you for experimenting with my favorite fundraising activity. Looking forward to my ride with you in 2019!

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About Suzy DeLine

Suzy DeLine is a digital marketing consultant specializing in both inbound and content marketing. She is a huge marketing geek and gets very excited when she sees things being done well, or innovative stuff being tried out. (She also loves beagles.) She hails from a Wisconsin dairy farm by way of Northwestern University (go Wildcats).

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