Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member
The 17th annual Atlanta Buddy Walk® was held on Sunday, October 19th, in the heart of Georgia’s state capital. Coordinated by Vanessa Champlin and Stephanie Donlan, this event continued to raise awareness and funds for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta. After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for DSAA, Vanessa and Stephanie have several tips to share with other event coordinators in the Down syndrome community.
1. Include New People on Your Committee Each Year
Inviting new people to participate on your Buddy Walk® committee each year will ensure that new ideas are constantly being infused into your event, and keep it from becoming stale. Vanessa and Stephanie tell us that they host a Buddy Walk® pre-planning call and invite anyone from their membership to join in to share new ideas and thoughts. This is a perfect opportunity to get the new parents (or anyone new to Atlanta) involved in the event. Not only do you gain new insight into your event, but you also make a connection with new families, which is an essential step in growing any of your programs and events.
2. Charge a Registration Fee
While the Buddy Walk® events are a great way to raise awareness for the work being done in the Down syndrome community, being able to raise money to fund those programs is important, too. Vanessa and Stephanie believe that charging a registration fee gives the event value. Their fee included food, all the activities at the walk, and t-shirts. Additionally, charging a fee assists the event coordinators in planning for other aspects, such as food, beverages, and restrooms.
3. Offer On-Site Purchases
Many walks have items available for purchase at their walks, but Vanessa and Stephanie have a few key items that have proven quite successful. They created a discount card for their event; by purchasing the $20 card, you are entitled to unlimited discounts from local merchants. They tell us that these cards “flew out the door” once people were able to see the available discounts. This item not only raises money for the DSAA but also establishes a connection with local business owners, creating a relationship that will hopefully benefit both parties for years to come.
A silent auction was also held at their event, for the second year in a row, raising over $2000 this year. At first, the board was reluctant to add this aspect, feeling that they should not ask their participants for additional money once they arrived to the walk. However, the auction costs the association nothing (as the items are donated), so they decided to give it a go, and it has proven to be worth the effort.
Vanessa and Stephanie also invited food trucks to participate at this year’s walk, giving participants an option to buy food (in addition to the food that is included with the registration fee). Again, this helps build relationships between Down syndrome organizations and local merchants, and the food truck vendors may also be willing to donate part of their sales back to the organization in exchange for being able to participate.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things!
When you have an event for so many consecutive years in a row, it is important to try new things in order to experience success. Although there were concerns about technology failures, Vanessa and Stephanie rented iPads and implemented digital check in this year. This new idea alleviated the area about which they received the most complaints: registration lines/problems. By being willing to try something new, they were able to make their event more enjoyable for all who experienced it. They also suggest attending other walks outside of the Down syndrome community (Light the Night, Breast Cancer 2 Day) to take notes and get ideas.
Vanessa and Stephanie were successful in all of these aspects of their Buddy Walk® event, and their results show that their efforts are paying off! We look forward to watching their event continue to grow and exceed their expectations.
The Atlanta Buddy Walk® fundraising site is still accepting online donations. To donate, please click here.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out the rest of our Event Coordinator Tip series. We feature event tips from around the country in an effort to share ideas and help build our Down syndrome community.