Are you missing opportunities to build relationships with your stakeholders?
On today’s episode, I spoke with Dave Elmore, the Executive Director of Paradox Sports.
Paradox exists to increase climbing access for those with disabilities, expanding access to adaptive climbing programs and national climbing trips nationwide.
Paradox already does a great job with relationship-building and nurturing its stakeholders into the Inspire Phase of their Audience Engagement Cycle.
In the episode, we discussed the ways organizations can leverage their stakeholders’ empathy and encourage them to spread the Paradox Sports mission to others. Here’s the short version: once you create an emotional connection, it becomes a no-brainer to ask your audience to help share your organization’s mission with their networks.
Dave and I also discussed an opportunity for which Paradox is particularly well-positioned: using a company called Tapkat to promote sweepstakes to their corporate partnerships’ mailing lists. Tapkat (https://tapkat.com) helps nonprofits drive revenue through sweepstakes—and those who can access partnership assets can see gains by using this service.
Check out this episode for some great insights. I hope you love it.
Paradox Sports: https://paradoxsports.org
Help create diversity at your favorite climbing gym by asking them if they are accessible and open to adaptive athletes. If not, point them to Paradox Sports.
Listen to the podcast here
Want To Share Your Mission? Just Ask Your Stakeholders With Dave Elmore From Paradox Sports
My guest is Dave Elmore, the Executive Director of Paradox Sports. Paradox has a great mission to expand adaptive climbing and access to programs nationwide through national climbing trips, adaptive climbing programs, and expanding climbing access for those with disabilities. Paradox already does a great job focusing on relationship building and nurturing its stakeholders into the inspire phase of their audience engagement cycle. One interesting addition we discussed was to leverage their corporate partnerships and healthy mailing lists to engage a wider audience through sweepstakes powered by Tapkat. There are lots of fun conversations in this episode. I hope you enjoy it.
How are you, Dave?
I’m doing well. How are you doing, Stu?
I’m well. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having me.
Where are you coming to us from?
I am down in Longmont.
It is windy crazy up here in the Netherland area. I hope it’s a little calmer down there.
It’s calm and eerily warm.
It’s warm. It is a little bit on the sporty side from the wind machine action up here. I appreciate you joining me on the show.
I’m excited. Thanks for having me.
It’s my pleasure. Tell us a little bit about Paradox Sports. I know that you guys do some great stuff in the adaptive world of climbing. We’d love to hear a bit more and get our audience up to speed on what you are up to.
Paradox Sports is a small nonprofit based here in Boulder, Colorado, founded in 2007. Our founders, Timmy O’Neill, DJ Skelton, and Malcolm, had this focus on creating an organization that allowed folks with physical disabilities to get out into the world and enjoy sports. In our early iteration, the organization offered multiple variations of outdoor activities, from climbing to paddle boarding to river running to big wall climbing to biking.
As we progressed and matured as an organization, we started to get more refined and focused. A few years ago, the organization went through a strategic plan where we identified climbing as our highest point of contribution. Since 2015, we’ve been focused on climbing. Our mission, as it is articulated, is to transform lives and communities through adaptive climbing opportunities that defy convention.
Get your facility trained up to ultimately diversify your community and make climbing more accessible to more people.
For us, it’s all about getting out in the world, going across the country, and delivering adaptive climbing opportunities in three different variations. We have our standard national trips, which is a great opportunity for adaptive athletes to come together, build community, and climb in these amazing places across the country, like Yosemite National Park.
We’ve delivered programs in Joshua Tree. We deliver the Shelf Road program here in Colorado. Those national trips are the heart and soul of our community. They’re enjoyable programs. Second to that, we have our adaptive training. We have a core group of trainers who traveled the country and helped other organizations diversify their climbing facilities by training in best practices as it relates to adaptive climbing.
We work with a lot of university programs and BA facilities and climbing gyms in terms of training their staff and getting them set up for success in terms of starting their own adaptive climbing programs. The third tenet of our mission is a local program. We’ve been working pretty hard here in Colorado, and because we’ve been based here for so long, it’s home to our local programs, which involve a lot of one-day programs.
We’re going into Eldo for a climbing day, going into Clear Creek. We’ve done a lot of indoor programming in the Front Range in Denver and Boulder through our community climbing nights. 2019 was a great year for us. We were busy delivering on those three facets of national trips and the needs of local programs, and then the pandemic hit. Things slowed down dramatically.
I can imagine you guys had some challenges to overcome. It’s funny that you mentioned Timmy and Malcolm. I’ve bumped up against those two guys in the past as part of the Boulder Venture Film Festival, which I used to be on the jury for. I’m familiar with those two cats.
Malcolm Daly. Was it DJ or Timmy you know?
They’re great. As founding fathers of Paradox Sports, they’re still involved to a degree. From time to time, they sit on our advisory board. Those three, I still call them from time to time and seek advice simply because they have been around for a while and had this wonderful idea of creating an organization of individuals and community in terms of supporting those with physical disabilities. We’re excited to still have them around.
It’s such a great mission. I can imagine that 2020 was a real challenge for you. Were you able to keep any of those three pillars moving at all during the pandemic?
We were. Initially, like so many organizations around the world, we pushed pause in the spring of 2020 in order to take a moment and get an assessment of how the pandemic was not only going to impact us in the short-term but how we thought it was going to play out over the long-term. In the first three months, we pushed pause on all of our programs.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel a number of scheduled training across the country. We had to reschedule some national trips, but it was the best thing for us in terms of taking time to develop some resources that support us in this new norm, which is delivering programs in the time of COVID. By June 2020, we had developed those resources, and we were back out there delivering programs, but on a much more limited basis.
Our group sizes were reduced with travel restrictions and all the mandates around COVID. It constricted our programming or our ability to deliver on our mission, but we were still out there delivering programs to the best of our ability. It’s been a slow process of ramping up. Now we’re approaching month 7 or 8, and we’re still out there. We’ve been running programs on the East Coast.
We have our Northeast ice climbing program coming up here on the third weekend of January 2021. It’s a smaller group, but we’re still out there ice climbing. In February, we have our annual Ouray ice climbing program in reduced size, but we’re going to be out there ice climbing. We’re doing the best we can. We’re hopeful that as we enter a new year and we move towards spring that things start to return to normal with the vaccines that are in place. We understand it will take a while, but we’re hopeful that we’ll be back firing on all cylinders within the year.
It certainly seems like there’s a little more light at the end of that tunnel than perhaps there was months ago. It’s nice to see that you were able to make some adjustments and continue to serve those people who need your services during such a challenging time. Were you able to move some of your training to more of a virtual scenario? Does it require a lot of real hands-on?
We pivoted on multiple fronts to a virtual platform, and our fundraising was pivoted to virtual. We did some community building initially to maintain contact with our community. We did some virtual game nights and virtual outreach. As far as the training, we did not do virtual simply because inherent in those training is spending a lot of hands-on time in the gym with the equipment and systems. We did pivot from indoor training and developed a new outdoor training program. With the support of The North Face, we are moving towards delivering that training in the outdoor space.
We’re going to deliver our first outdoor adaptive climbing initiative training at Staunton State Park here in Colorado. Our hope is to bring in professionals from the industry and have them participate in this outdoor setting, which allows us to follow a state mandate in regard to COVID. We’re hopeful that out of all of this, we’ll create some new programming that will stay with us as we progress through COVID.
It feels like you have an opportunity to meet people, both indoors and outdoors, in a lot of respects. I’m sure that a lot of your beneficiaries come to climbing gyms as their first intro to adaptive climbing. With Ouray and other outdoor ice venues, it’s interesting that the winter has almost started to become a decent opportunity for you to keep people rolling.
That’s an accurate assessment in terms of not only who we are but what we do. We are a point of entry organization. The climbing gyms themselves serve as a point of entry for folks to get in and get familiar with adaptive climbing, whether you’re an adaptive athlete or a facilitator seeking knowledge to deliver adaptive climbing programs. Even our outdoor trips sound intimidating to some folks, but our ice and rock-climbing programs are a point of entry programs on the national trip run. We’re not out there going into Eldo and climbing six-pitch routes or doing alpine routes. We’re pretty controlled. Even our national trips are a point of entry programming.
What we’re hoping to do in the new year is develop that second-tier curriculum and programming so that we can serve those individuals who’ve been with us for a while within the community and participate in a lot of our programs. They’re more advanced in their skillset. They’re looking, “What’s the next level for me?” versus, “I’ve been to Ouray ice climbing seven years in a row looking for something new.” We’re starting to talk about and formulate a new program plan that might better serve those more advanced participants.
Before COVID hit, we started an adaptive adventure fund, which is a grant program that adaptive athletes can apply to that will support their ventures. If you’re a more advanced climber and want to climb the Grand Teton and you need a little financial support, we’ve created this grant to help those adaptive athletes who want to get out there and climb beyond our program offerings.
Where does your funding come from for those types of not only your tier 1 but these tier 2 opportunities? Is it mostly through other grants? Are you leveraging donations for the most part? What’s your revenue model?
It’s traditional for nonprofits. It’s all of the above. We do rely on individual giving. We do our annual campaign. We started a couple of campaigns which is a new format. We have our adoptive advocate campaign, which is a monthly giving program for individual donors. We have our base campaign, which historically has happened at St. Julien in Downtown Boulder in-person event to help build community. In 2020, we went virtual. Our centerpiece was a film that we produced articulating our story and mission, and then we pushed that out virtually. Individual giving and corporate partners are huge for us. The outdoor industry has been great. We have a lot of great corporate sponsors.
We had Eldorado Climbing Walls, which is Colorado-based. They stepped up and supported us in a pretty critical year. They supported our virtual base camp fundraiser by coming in as a title sponsor, and then they came in with some additional funding to help pay for the film. Corporate for us is critical. The last one is grants. We reach out and apply for different grants. Those three combined keep us afloat because the reality is as a nonprofit who we deliver programs at a much-reduced rate, our revenue engine is not based on programming. It’s based on our development efforts through individual corporate grants.
In terms of the training component, is that something that you charge for as well? Is that not a moneymaker because you charge such a reduced grade on it?
Of all of our program revenue lines, the trainings are our greatest revenue engine because we charge what we think is a fair rate, but it also allows us to deliver more training. We have some corporate support on the training front, like VF Foundation has come in big for us. The North Face has come in for us. We work with the VA and Move United to get funding and deliver training focused on veterans.
It’s a combination of looking for organizations that might be eligible for funding and then looking for organizations positioned well and can pay for the training themselves. We encourage those organizations who can’t pay for it to pay for it because that allows us to stretch our grant dollars and deliver more training ultimately and get us closer to our goal of making every facility accessible in the United States.
It’s such a great mission there to try to create. Is it like a certification process or a certification that people get where their gym becomes Paradox Sports-certified of some sort? Is it more transparent than that?
We provide a certificate of training, which articulates like, “Here are the hours of training,” but it’s not nationally recognized like an AMGA certification. We’re hoping in 2021 as that next level to apply to the AMGA and get accredited as an organization. We’re discussing how to best partner with the AMGA in terms of strengthening our ability to deliver curriculum and certified gym. It’s this collection of gyms that have gone to the training with no certification, but we hope to change that in the near future.
Reimagine what development could and should look like. What do we want to bring with us? What do we want to leave behind? What do we want to develop just in terms of new ideas?
It seems like that’s a pretty decent opportunity for you to build that brand name a little more and create not only interest but urgency around bringing your team in for training. It would feel like if I were a climbing gym, I’d be interested in seeing how to make that happen.
What we’re hoping to do is to articulate clearly what the value proposition is for gyms. From 2019 to 2020, many social issues rose to the surface, one of those being rightly so diversity, equity, and access. We’re pushing hard from a mission perspective to get out there and let organizations know that there is an opportunity to engage Paradox and get your facility trained to ultimately diversify your community and make climbing more accessible to more people.
We want to be able to put our best foot forward in terms of the quality of curriculum and trainers. If we can get the AMGA certification, that adds that value proposition to the investment because coming out of the pandemic, climbing gyms across the country have been decimated. They’ve had to close their doors. Their revenue stream shut off.
Members are reluctant to return to the climbing gyms. What we’ve done is we’ve pivoted and restructured our cost of the training to provide some incentive there. We’ve reduced our prices. We’ve given more options in terms of the different training levels. We are making readily available the grant dollars that we have so that gyms that are trying to get that flywheel spinning again can reach out and find the best fit financially for their organization and where they’re at now.
There’s an angle there that is cool, where you have the opportunity to help create connections within a few different groups that could be beneficial to both of the parties there. That would potentially help gyms open up opportunities to bring athletes in. For example, like helping make connections with VA groups for those gyms, where you guys have this repository of information about a specific group that perhaps the gym hadn’t thought about as an opportunity. Opening up the gym to that group would create an opportunity for that gym to perhaps supply some grants that they might not have otherwise been eligible to apply for as they serve that underserved community.
That’s a best-case scenario where there’s an initial investment, maybe with some reservation on a climbing gym side of things. What happens is at the end of that, you’ve diversified, grown your community, and potentially are increasing your membership because now you’re tapping into these new communities like veteran adaptive climbers, who you weren’t serving previously. We feel strongly that there’s a return on investment for gyms to get adaptive climbing and training done.
We have another program that we’re starting to offer to gyms to help gain traction post-pandemic, which is we have a program called The Paradox Mile, which is a self-directed fundraising platform. If you’re a gym owner, you can subscribe to The Paradox Mile and engage your membership base by saying, “We’re going to provide the opportunity to come into the gym and climb 1 vertical mile in support of adaptive athletes across the country.”
It’s a fundraising platform for Paradox, but we use some of those funds and funnel them back into the training budget so that gyms that haven’t been trained have access to those dollars. Their membership base has the opportunity to raise money and then get these great prizes that our corporate partners have provided for us through in-kind donations like jackets, backpacks, mugs, and all this cool stuff.
That was put on pause initially, and now we’re starting to gain some traction. We had a gym in Connecticut complete their Paradox Mile with the goal being you’re raising $5,280 and climbing equivalent vertical feet. They exceeded that and raised $7,000 or something. We have three gyms from the climbing group in Nashville, Bentonville, and I forget the third location. They’re going to do the mile as well. It’s a nice way to engage membership, raise some funds for a good cause, and populate this budget that we have to deliver training at a reduced cost or no cost for the gyms.
There are a few things that come to mind there. One is, there’s a messaging component to that as well, where the gyms now have aligned themselves with this additional mission, which is to bring adaptive climbing into their space and community and support all of those people who are challenged with having access to these kinds of places. There’s certainly a PR play for the gyms themselves. There’s a revenue play where gyms are opening up their doors to a much larger audience. Back to the PR piece is that once you have that altruistic or that bigger mission than just being a climbing gym, that then becomes something that inspires other people to come and join that gym.
It becomes a bit of a differentiator for them as well. Have you thought about doing a virtual mile event? I know Strava has been able to create opportunities. That’s just one app that I have in mind that has been able to create opportunities for people, for example, in the cycling industry, to do a lot of real virtual interactive things. Perhaps you could allow people to do their own thing, and they wouldn’t have to necessarily come to that specific gym to participate in that event.
That’s something we were talking about. We haven’t yet done it. With the status of where we’re at, everybody’s still navigating COVID, and there’s still the opportunity to pivot virtually. What we’ve found is there were so many people and organizations engaging folks from a virtual standpoint that people got zoomed out.
With these new apps, like MyClimb and Strava, there is an opportunity to have a more self-directed initiative where I, as an individual, could go out. Let’s say I’m living in Boulder. I could run up the Flatirons and climb my 5,280 feet and call it good. That’s an opportunity that we’re looking at, and we’re waiting to see what happens with the pandemic. If things start to open up in the gyms, we probably want to stay focused on those partnerships. If it’s prolonged, we will seriously consider doing something like that.
It’s interesting too. There’s an opportunity to tap into the gym’s membership. Perhaps there’s some additional play where you’re playing for your gym as well. The gym that has the people who get the most mileage gets free training, or there’s something there potentially where people could feel like they’re part of a team as well as an individual play.
That’s a great idea. You could still have that team identity by saying, “My home gym is Movement Boulder, but I’m going to go out and climb in Rocky Mountain or the Flatirons and get a lot of mileage.” We do have a program where gyms can do this Paradox Mile partly in support of raising funds for the training.
We’ve had gyms be successful in raising funds and paying for their training, which is, for us, it’s a win-win because our ultimate goal is not to put a bunch of dollars in the bank because we’re a nonprofit. Our goal is to change our mission and get every facility trained in the US. The climbing gym industry has blown up over the last several years. We’re the tip of the iceberg in terms of our impact. We’ve done a lot of training in over 40 states. Compared to how many gyms there are in the US, we still have a long way to go.
There are a lot of them out there. Being in the Boulder area, you get the tendency to think there’s one on every corner. Nationwide, we’ve seen an explosion in that industry. It’s fun to see.
Which is fantastic because that means there are that many more people identifying with climbing and being a climber. Some of that empathy will transcend to the support of those individuals who are identified as adaptive climbers and, thus, making our Paradox Mile more successful, making our training participation numbers go up. The hope is that this becomes a collaborative approach. We want it to be a peer-to-peer, one gym asking another gym or one member asking another member, like, “Have you gone through the Paradox training? Is your gym accessible?” That’s the ideal scenario for us.
That opens up a whole bunch of different things to talk about. You mentioned that you didn’t want to put a bunch of money in the bank that you’re wanting to expand the mission, which I completely understand. In terms of trying to gather resources to help expand that mission, are there any other donation drive plays that you’ve considered or that you have in place to bolster those funds that you could then use to expand your mission?
We have what I would consider a pretty traditional development plan. We have our Base Camp annual event. We have our Adaptive Advocate campaign for monthly donors. We have historically had a number of events throughout the year. That’s where we took the biggest hit in 2020. We weren’t able to deliver these in-person events.
As an example, we had our ice climbing program in Ouray in February 2020. To the actual ice climbing program, we have an event called Got Stump?! which is this wonderful irreverent celebration of adaptive athletes. Every year a new adaptive athlete is nominated for the Got Stump award, which is a prosthetic leg, which they then have to drink beer out of. It’s this wonderful celebration. In 2020, we were not able to do that because of COVID.
We’re going to miss out on the in-person event as a fundraiser. What we’re doing now is to reimagine what development could look like, what it should look like, what we want to bring with us, what we want to leave behind, and what we want to develop in terms of new ideas. Everybody across the glove is recognizing our vulnerability. For us, it’s looking at how we raise those precious dollars to deliver on the mission and how we diversify that strategy. If we’re just relying on 1 or 2 person events and the pandemic hits, we’re not going to have a plan B or C. We’re in the process now of thinking about that. You gave us one great idea, expanding that mile program to more of a virtual independent initiative.
That’s something to consider. What’s your mailing list size? How many people are in a database that has either donated in the past or participated in the program or those types of things?
We’re in the 6,000 to 8,000 range, which is okay, but it’s not huge by any means. We do a lot of outreaches. We’re always aware of donor fatigue or how many virtual newsletters I can write that say, “Please, donate.” We’re always looking to expand and diversify.
You said you have some sounded like some pretty big corporate partners as well. You mentioned North Face and Boulder Climbing Walls. Are there any other big-name corporate sponsors that you have?
It varies every year in terms of what the “roster” is of corporate sponsors. We have Eldorado Climbing Walls, The North Face has been wonderful, and the VF Foundation, which is VF is the umbrella company of North Face. They have an independent foundation. We’ve gotten support from them. We’ve gotten support from Sterling Ropes and Osprey Packs. We’ll forget a number of them. On any given year, aside from experiencing a pandemic, we probably have 25 to 30 corporate sponsors. Maybe half of that is in terms of the numbers of grants or foundations that support us. It fluctuates. We got a check from the Cliff Bar Family Foundation or Polar Tech. It varies.
I have an idea that you might want to look into. It’s a sweepstakes play. We’re friends with an organization called Tapkat, which is Tapkat.com. They have a cool program designed specifically for nonprofits, where they are running sweepstakes for nonprofits that generate donations. Essentially, if you donate a certain amount, you get a certain amount of sweepstakes entries. If you do donate more, you get more entries. Your mailing list to start is adequate to run this type of sweepstakes, but you can leverage your corporate sponsors’ mailing lists as well.
I imagine North Face has a massive mailing list. Cliff Bar has a massive mailing list. You opened this up for some great opportunities. Essentially, the way the program works is you come up with a prize. For example, for you thinking about your target audience and the places you play, that could be something like a climbing trip. It could be a Sprinter van that’s fully decked out.
Ten or 20 dollars is two trips to Starbucks versus helping someone reach their opportunity to climb again.
It could be something geared toward this outdoor industry thing, then leveraging some of that in-kind donation stuff to sweeten that deal either as a grand prize or as subsequent smaller prizes that could be given away and essentially leveraging the power of those mailing lists that you may have access to, to drive people’s interest in donating, which they were probably some of which we’re thinking about doing anyway. It builds awareness as well as helps you build that mailing list of people who may not be exactly your target audience but are well enough connected to that outdoor industry play that they may turn into recurring donors in the future.
It’s a cool program. The way that they tend to run them is it’s a low risk to the nonprofits themselves because a lot of times, you don’t even have to purchase the prize until you reach certain thresholds. For example, if you were going to give away a van package worth $100,000, you would predicate that on raising $200,000. If you make that $200,000, the top prize goes into play. If you don’t, you have some cash not equivalent to put cash whatever the words would be there in terms of the alternate prize. It’s a neat program geared specifically toward what you’re trying to do. That would be something to explore for sure.
I’ve seen different platforms like that. I’ve even spent some of my own hard-earned money on some of those prizes on those different platforms. There’s tremendous power in leveraging these types of platforms in terms of the outreach because people love prizes and the idea of winning something that has certainly a high value in terms of who doesn’t want a Sprinter van? As an organization, we have cool trips. We have partner organizations that provide a lot of cool experiences and gear. We’d be positioned well to create something pretty attractive to folks and then leverage a bigger mailing list, and then hopefully, that’s exponential and catches on. I’d be interested in exploring that.
I know that they did one with Neptune there in Boulder. I can’t remember exactly what the nonprofit was attached to that. It was Boulder Climbing Community maybe, BCC. They were able to raise quite a bit of money through that relationship. I know that they’ve had good success in bringing on tapping into those corporate sponsorship opportunities for a greater reach. I’ll send you information and an introduction to Tapkat because it might be worth a conversation with those guys.
I’d love an introduction.
Are you having any challenges? What’s your outreach to VAs and that community in terms of adaptive athletes? Is there a challenge there as well in terms of getting in front of people who might be interested in your services?
We’ve had this interesting shift. In 2019 and prior to that, we were gaining a lot of traction. A lot of the outreach was in the form of inquiries. People were coming to Paradox Sports, asking about our programs, training, and different opportunities. Now it’s shifted 180 degrees where there’s a lot of radio silence out there, and we’re in a position we’re recognizing that our outreach, we need to take that on and be dedicating some staffing hours towards outreach to get the flywheel spinning for whether it’s our training or soliciting dollars.
It has all of a sudden presented itself as a significant challenge. Our outreach is pretty traditional, like eNewsletters, eBlasts, social media, and our website. What we’re moving towards is like, “We need to start identifying the different organizations, whether that’s climbing gyms, VAs universities, and starting to make cold calls and make connections once again, because everything got shut down.” Things got severed in these last few months, and now we’re looking to bridge that gap created by the pandemic.
It’s interesting that it went from inbound to this need for outbound. Do you think that that was just the pandemic that created that flip?
I attribute it to the pandemic because that was the most impactful event for us, but it existed at some level prior to the pandemic in terms of our potential to impact the adaptive climbing industry. Pre-pandemic, we could have been cold calling people because there are so many climbing gyms in the US. There are so many VA organizations spread across the US. We could have been doing some outreach. We felt it more so when the pandemic hit because we are inbound and completely shut off. It accentuated it.
Do you feel like there was just strong word of mouth brand awareness prior to the pandemic, and people’s attention has shifted? Were there things that you were doing? Were you creating material and content that was attractive for those audiences?
It was a little bit of everything. We were gaining a lot of traction because we were out there delivering training after training, which created this word of mouth. We have these great corporate partnerships. In 2020, those corporate partnerships shrunk. Our existing corporate partners who helped us message that pre-pandemic have rightly so shifted their focus to relief efforts. We don’t have that platform for communication. It’s a combination of those things that have contracted our ability to market ourselves.
Is there a place where you can generate a list of all the climbing gyms in the country or all the VA organizations? Is there relatively easy access to that information?
There is. It’s accessible online.
Have you created any attract phase information that these organizations might be interested in in terms of how to launch it and adaptive climbing program or ten things you need to be aware of as you try to retrofit your gym for adaptive climbing or things like that? Are there any materials you’ve created that would fit that mold?
We do have some materials like that as well. We’re in the process of starting to generate some new material that is directed towards getting that wheel spinning again. One of the great things we did with Eldorado Climbing Walls is we created a PDF that was included in the Eldorado Climbing Wall purchase. If you brought a panel or a wall, they would ship that to you, but they would also ship that PDF that highlighted Paradox and the need to be assessing your facility in terms of accessibility.
We provide them a list similar to what you had said, ten things to be aware of. We listed like, “Here are the things to be aware of. Here are some resources.” That was something to help drive interest and raise awareness. We’ve done a couple of those outreach marketing development tools. We’re hoping to develop some new ones in the first month or two of 2021, simply because of where we’re at and the impacts of COVID.
It’s all about trying new things and figuring out what’s going to work. Usually, what we would recommend is starting with those audiences and thinking about all those different audience types that you’re trying to reach, whether that’s gym owners or VA hospitals, VA organizations, or other adaptive athlete types of organizations, and starting to think about the challenges that they are facing and the frustrations they’re feeling in creating informational materials that help them get a grip on some of those things that they’re challenged with.
A couple of ideas there is to ask permission before you send things out. Say, “We have this cool eBook about things you can do to make your gym more accessible to those who would like to use it. Would you like for me to send that to you?” Essentially, what you’re doing is creating an opportunity to create and build a relationship, as opposed to just assuming that they might want it and sending it to them. People are a lot more apt to pay attention to the thing if they’ve requested it versus if it’s blindly sent.
It’s coming from that idea and then thinking about things that would be valuable for each of those audience types and creating materials that you can share with them that helped them transcend that challenge they’re facing now. It’s coming from this altruistic perspective where you’re not even necessarily asking for donations or asking for them to support you, but you’re attempting to build a value-based relationship. Certainly, the call to action there could be something like, “Are you interested in learning more? Visit our website or give us a call. We’re happy to provide. We have people who love to talk about this, so give us a shout.” Those kinds of things are super valuable.
I love the idea of seeking permission and bridging that gap by building a relationship first.
One of the things we see a lot is nonprofits jumping right to that donate now ask. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be asking for donations, but a lot of times, it can be a lot more effective if you do tee that up with some relationship building. It’s like dating. If you see someone run up to them and say, “Will you marry me? Do you want to go out tonight?” before you’ve even introduced yourself, that doesn’t usually work super red hot. Where do you go to find donors? What type of people are your biggest donors?
In the development space, it does vary from year to year, depending on who’s our sphere of influence. Some of our biggest donors have not been climbers. They don’t have anybody in their family who identifies as an adaptive climber, but they love our mission. The key has been we’ve built authentic relationships with those donors.
I wouldn’t say we have any particular profile in terms of the larger donors. It’s donors we’ve built good relationships with. Aside from corporate grants from the individual perspective, it’s this wonderful wide spectrum of supporters. When we look at any given profile, they could be climbers or not. They subscribed to our mission. Core to our mission is building community, providing access, and our vehicle for that happens to the climbing.
It’s cool to know. You use the words relationship while describing that because it’s super important to nurture those relationships and create opportunities for repeat engagement. I was talking with someone, and he mentioned that for most nonprofits, it costs them $1.25 to bring in $1. The next thing that gets scary is that a lot of those nonprofits don’t tend to have any inspire phase where they are nurturing that relationship that they’ve built through that audience acquisition costs to get a repeat donation.
A couple of things that you’ve mentioned during our conversation are super. One is that you do have a recurring donation system or play in place where the real goal is to get people on board with regular donations, as opposed to a one-time deal. Hearing you talk about relationships is great, too, because it shows me that you have the understanding that these people are in your sphere of influence. They’re part of your team. They have raised their hands and have said, “I like this program. I want to invest in it.” You’re facilitating opportunities to get them to invest again, which is a great thing to know.
I believe in building those authentic relationships. A lot of folks out there get asked from all kinds of angles in different organizations for money. It’s certainly the case for me. When I feel like there’s an authentic relationship and that’s the basis or the foundation of the ask, I’m far more likely to invest or spend money on that organization, but I’m spending the money on that relationship, that friend. I call it coffee cards and calls.
I’ve never drank so much coffee, written so many cards, or made so many calls because I want to maintain and build those relationships, especially at a time when we’re not able to have that face-to-face time. Where I’ve found the most success is reaching out to those folks that I’ve spent a lot of time with and making sure they understand that my efforts are authentic and they’re not simply to get the dollars out of their pocket. It’s building those relationships and friendships and then asking for that investment when the time is right.
Everybody loves to win something. That’s something to be recognized and leveraged if possible.
Recurring donations are not anything new, but a lot of people miss that opportunity. Frankly, over the course of any given year, if you have someone who’s a monthly donor and is donating a small amount monthly, that can eclipse what they might be able to give as a one-time activity. Simply opening that up as an opportunity is something that goes a long way.
It’s giving people that chance to donate $10 or $20 and changing the way that you talk about that $10 or $20, “This is two trips to Starbucks,” versus helping someone reach their opportunity to climb again. Framing it in that fashion creates that ability to make it a little different ask. It’s pretty easy to get someone to donate $10 a month versus maybe they can’t dig $120 out of their pocket. Lowering that threshold is a great thing to do.
It’s giving people options and also recognizing where we’re at. When we refocused on that adaptive advocate campaign in terms of monthly giving as an option, we ended up increasing it by 47% in the first 3 or 4 months compared to the previous year. In part to your point, it’s recognizing, like $5 a month makes it easier on the pocketbook because you can spread it out. You put it in context. It’s like a cup of coffee. That helps and has allowed us to provide different avenues for individuals to support us.
I like knowing that you’re doing that. It’s great. What are your takeaways from our conversation?
My takeaways are there are still some great opportunities in terms of being intentional in this, not only this new year of 2021, but in this new norm in terms of post-pandemic and being thoughtful and intentional around how we approach potential donors, making sure that the human side of things leads in terms of building relationships, but also being creative in terms of building out some materials.
To your point, it’s asking for permission, identifying what are the challenges, and trying to demonstrate some empathy to the organizations or individuals that we’re reaching out to and say, “We understand you’re probably facing this challenge as we are. We have a potential solution. Here’s some information. Would you like more?” I love that approach to it. It’s intentional and not that, “Will you marry me,” on day one approach.
Those are some takeaways as well. I love the idea of Tapkat. That’s a platform I’ve thought about, but I haven’t had access to that platform or figured out how to set that up. That’s a takeaway in terms of looking at fundraising from that crowd sharing, where things catch fire, and all of a sudden, you’re reaching people you never thought you would reach before.
It hits people on two levels as well with that. There’s the emotional, “I’m supporting a cause,” and there’s the, “I might win something.” It keys into a couple of different mechanisms that are going on in our lizard brains.
Everybody loves to win something. That’s something to be recognized and leveraged if possible.
I will make an introduction. How can people find more information about you guys?
They can go to our website at ParadoxSports.org. We have all kinds of great information up there on our national trips, our training, and our local programs with contact information.
I will point people in that direction. I like having these conversations, but I also like action. If there’s one thing that you would have people do after reading, what do you think that would be?
Speaking to all the climbers out there, the call to action is to go into your local gym and inquire if the gym is accessible and has been trained up in terms of opening the doors to more climbers that identify as being adaptive in nature and helping us achieve that goal and push that mission forward of creating more access and diversity within the climbing community. Go to your local crag or gym and inquire and help light the fire.
I hope to get back in the gym here soon. I used to go at least once a week. We had a group of us that met. We are called Coffee and Crags in the morning. We would go and meet every morning, drink coffee, and climb some routes. I’m hoping to get back to that here soon.
That sounds like a great way to start the day.
It certainly was. I miss it dearly. I will make an introduction to Annie at Tapkat. I appreciate you being on the show. Thanks for joining me.
Thank you, Stu. I appreciate it.
It’s my pleasure.