Ali Landes, Wendy Walk
Wendy Walk, launched in April 2010, is an annual walk that takes place in New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles that raises funds and awareness for Liposarcoma cancer.
‘Ah ha’ moment that led you to launching this business: After my mom, Wendy, who suffers from Liposarcoma, had her first 13 hour surgery and failed her second chemotherapy treatment. I could no longer sit passively and watch this disease attack my mom; I knew we had to do something. My brother, Matt, my sister, Jackie and I created the Wendy Walk because we felt powerless and helpless as we watched our mom get continuously sicker. We knew we needed to take collective action and a walk seemed like the perfect way to do this.
Target Market: Young professionals, mothers and college students. We feel the mission of the Wendy Walk is relatable to both people who love their moms and would do anything to save them, as well as to anyone who has been affected by cancer in their lifetime.
First Customer: We targeted a large pharmaceutical company that we knew had been involved in funding general sarcoma trials in the past. We calculated that because they had previously invested in sarcoma treatments, they would be willing to lend us their name. We did extensive research and approached them with a letter explaining what we sought to do and why Liposarcoma research was a cause worthy of their attention. The company agreed to fund the walk at a $5,000 sponsorship level in exchange for their name being printed on the back of our t-shirts.
Measuring Success: We measure success by the amount of money we raise and participation levels at the walk. Wendy Walk 2012 has been a big success for us. We doubled participation in all three of walks in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Additionally, we more than doubled our funds raised from 2011 to 2012. Wendy Walk 2011 raised $ 250,000 for research and Wendy Walk 2012 is currently surpassing the $550,000 mark.
Biggest Struggle: We lack the ability to rely heavily on identity-based fundraising for the walk. Liposarcoma is an extremely rare cancer; we cannot depend solely on survivors and the families and friends of survivors to participate. If we target only those who have been touched by Liposarcoma, we would only have a handful of people at each event. As a result, we have tackled this issue by directing our focus on the broader reasons for participating in Wendy Walk. We talk about three kids who want their mom alive, who would do anything to keep her here for their weddings, and their graduations. Very few people can relate to the experience of being diagnosed with Liposarcoma, but anyone who is a mother, or who has a mother, can identify with our fight to save our mom’s life and our mom’s fight to beat this disease. So we tell people about our mom: We talk about a woman who was a renowned mediation lawyer, avid tennis player, and an active part of her community. Wendy was the mom who was never sick, who was the rock of the family, and who was always there for her kids, until one day when everything changed. By structuring our outreach campaign around experiences that the public can identify with, we reach people who might not otherwise choose to support rare-cancer research with their hard-earned dollars.
Surprise!: I never could have imagined the level of skill and dedication volunteers would bring to the organization in areas such as fundraising, marketing, event planning, public relations, and social media.
Promoting business: We have created a dedicated and invested committee whose members are responsible for directly engaging their networks in the Wendy Walk. Additionally, creating an official sponsorship package, coupled with one-on-one meetings with potential sponsors, has greatly increased our revenues. We created an emotional and educational video, which illustrates the story of the Wendy Walk and has allowed people to better identify with the cause.
Two things I wish I would’ve known: I wish I had known how instrumental a Wendy Walk committee would be in all three cities, and I wish I had known how necessary electronic team giving and sponsorship fundraising technology was to the growth of this organization.
What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?: I think constantly about how to expand our base of supporters and how we can ensure that we are reaching patients and families who are affected by Liposarcoma. There is also a constant feeling of urgency, the reality that we are in a race against time to find a cure for this disease, both for the broader medical community and for my mom, who has been heroically battling this cancer for four years.
Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?: I do have a job, and I work on the Wendy Walk every free minute that I have. There are times when it does get overwhelming to juggle all of my commitments, but I am so passionate about the walks that it is worth it for me.
Moving Forward: Our goal is two-fold: first, to implement nationwide sponsorship and team-giving opportunities as part of a broader re-vamp and redesign of our website and web based presence. The second goal is to increase the number of foundations and corporations partnering with us on the Wendy Walk Initiative.
Pricing Getting It Right: Pricing is a very difficult concept and I struggle with increasing the Wendy Walk registration fee. My advice is to study your financial goal and charge a fee that allows you to meet that goal. In the case of the Wendy Walk, we are trying to fund research to find a cure for a devastating cancer, and medical research is extremely expensive. I must keep the reality front and center when creating my price point for general registration and sponsorships. Just one collaborative study is $250,000, so I know I have to raise a significant amount of money each year to even make a dent in medical research. Additionally, I suggest that people analyze what similar events are charging for the value they are providing to their guests. A the end of the day, you have to feel comfortable with what you are asking people to spend, and you have to have confidence in the product you are creating.
Funding: We needed to raise $1 million to put Liposarcoma on the map. We needed to raise this money to motivate the medical community to focus on Liposarcoma and demonstrate that there is a critical mass of people who care deeply about this cancer. In order to find funding, you have to communicate a strong message of need and a method to provide relief. This is about telling a story that enables an individual to understand how critical his or her action is to fixing your problem. In the case of the event I founded with my siblings, the Wendy Walk, the need is clear: my mom is seriously ill with a rare and fast-moving cancer. New research represents the only chance of finding a cure, and that research will not happen unless our community of supporters acts to fund it. Without funds raised by private donors, there is no hope.
A Few Good Tips: There are so many incredible causes and wonderful charitable organizations that it can be hard to get a person to understand why your particular organization is one that needs their help. In order to communicate this message, use a variety of outreach methods including but not limited to: press, video, educational events, and individual meetings. Always stick to your core mission and understand who you are. I know the Wendy Walk is my brother, sister and I trying to raise funds and awareness for Liposarcoma, and we stick to that mission no matter what. There are people who will try to convince you to work on additional issues, but in the nonprofit sector you must make sure to stick to your core mission and know who you are. I know that we are in a unique position to find a cure and make the way easier for those that will have to battle Liposarcoma in the future, and we are going to keep working towards this goal.
The absolute best part of owning my business is: being so passionate about the cause.
If I had to start over again, I would: have immediately created an advisory board.
I never imagined: working for a cause so close to me would be so difficult.
If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “Never take no for an answer.”