Virtual fundraisers that take place entirely online and from wherever the supporter is located are as old as the Internet. Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundations's (ALSF) signature virtual fundraiser, The Million Mile, was launched more recently in 2013.
The Million Mile encourages supporters to walk, run or cycle as many miles as possible during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September while raising money to help kids with cancer. In 2018 alone, more than 1,500 teams with 8,000+ participants raised over $1.3 million.
One company that has participated in the virtual program since its inception is Sage Financial Group, an independent wealth management firm located just outside Philadelphia. For the past six years, the firm’s 28 employees have embraced The Million Mile and made it their own. Last year, they proudly finished second on the leaderboard!
Stephen Cohn, Co-President of Sage Financial, and Rebecca Anderson, the firm’s Director of Engagement and Communications, shared how they turned a virtual event into real money for Alex’s mission and an annual opportunity to deepen client engagement and encourage team building.
Q. Stephen, you’re a business owner and busy professional. Others like you may not get to the end of this interview. So, let’s get to the point. Why should a business participate in The Million Mile?
Stephen: “First, from a business owner’s point of view, The Million Mile is a great platform for employee team-building and for culture. Everyone will be very proud that they are working together to improve the lives of others and support an organization as impactful as Alex’s. Second, because it’s virtual, the cost and effort to participate in the program is minimal. For small and medium-sized businesses that want to give back but don’t have the resources or time to create a community event from scratch, The Million Mile is perfect. Finally, on the client side, Sage has spread the word about Alex’s mission, we’ve raised money together with clients and created stronger and new relationships for both Alex’s and Sage. The partnership has been truly win-win. I think this would be true for any business that partnered with an organization like Alex’s and joined The Million Mile.”
Q. Why did Sage choose a virtual event like The Million Mile?
Stephen: “Some businesses hold actual events, like golf tournaments. Others do corporate sponsorships, but The Million Mile was something we could get the whole organization behind, and everyone could make a direct contribution. Because it’s held online, it’s very efficient, scalable and repeatable.”
Q. When you talk to stakeholders about The Million Mile, how do you describe it to them?
Rebecca: “The Million Mile is a virtual event held over the month of September during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You can participate on your own terms and in any way that fits into your life. You can walk, you can run, you can bike. You can do it over lunch with your colleagues, or with your friends in the evening or over the weekend. When you join the Sage Million Milers, the impact of your efforts, however big or small, are multiplied by being part of our collective contribution.”
Q. How do you balance the online side of The Million Mile with the offline need to make it real and interesting to employees?
Rebecca: “We have to balance the virtual aspects of the fundraiser with in-house activities that build interest and motivation. These activities also create fun team-building opportunities. We create internal competitions with teams that challenge each other. We have fun weekly activities like who can write the best lemon haiku or who can build a boat from a lemon that will float or who can recognize someone’s close-up smile with a lemon in their mouth! The Million Mile has become a great way to come together after the summer and have some fun with colleagues while always knowing we are staying true to our firm’s core mission and helping to improve the lives of others.”
Q. How does Alex’s team help make the fundraiser successful?
Rebecca: “Alex’s is an incredible resource and partner that’s always there for us. First, you can always get someone on the phone who knows you. If they don’t have an answer right then, they’ll find one. Second, they have a tremendous library of materials, and they will help you think through how to use them. Finally, every year they have a new spin on The Million Mile that keeps it interesting and engaging.”
Q. What’s been employee response to The Million Mile?
Stephen: “They love it! Each year we do more and more, both internally and externally. It’s part of our brand in that employees expect to hear about and participate in it. When September rolls around, they are eager to grab their sneakers and sign up.”
Rebecca: “We have 100% willing and enthusiastic participation. It really speaks to the quality of Alex’s as an organization and to Sage’s support for their fundamental mission to find cures for childhood cancers. They make it incredibly easy for us to make a difference.”
Q. When did you make the leap to involve clients in The Million Mile?
Stephen: “We started telling clients about our work with Alex’s during the second year of the program. Truthfully, we weren’t sure what their reaction would be, but it was incredibly enthusiastic. This is where we leveraged the power of the virtual platform and encouraged them to join us on their own terms and on their own time. During September, they become part of Alex’s team. We keep them informed of what’s happening, and at the end of the month, we celebrate the success with them.”
Rebecca: “The first year Sage did The Million Mile, we had 21 participants. Last year, we had 230 and raised over $66,000 - almost 50% more than what we raised the previous year. Since we started participating, we have raised over $175,000. Sage couldn’t have done that without our clients. But the key is Alex’s. Everyone wants to help a cause that’s battling children’s cancer and demonstrating success through direct support of research and families. It’s not always easy to find a cause that everyone can embrace. But if there is one, it’s Alex’s.”