P2P Spotlight: Up close and personal with peer-to-peer fundraising professionals

Alicia O'Neill

Title: Director of Endurance and Race Events at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF)
Location: Norwalk, CT
Number of years as a fundraiser: 7
Number of years at current organization: 7

What inspired you to do this work? Or, what keeps you motivated to do this work?

I am motivated for two reasons: First, because the MMRF is such an outstanding game-changing cancer organization. I learn so much from the leadership here and know that the work we’re doing is so important because it has direct impact on extending the lives of patients.

I stay motivated because there is so much opportunity and growth in the endurance events space. I enjoy the challenge of finding new avenues for revenue, something that appeals to the sales person in me. My work at the MMRF taps into my love for running and cycling as well as my professional experience in previous roles at Warner Bros. TV and Running Times Magazine

What has happened recently that pumped you up?

What’s exciting about my job is finding ‘the next big thing.’ For example, we just launched a new partnership with IRONMAN, as the exclusive charity partner of IRONMAN Lake Placid. This is a new revenue stream and has allowed us to tap a new group of athletes. We like that IRONMAN is a big, bold organization, which has a sterling, recognizable, positive brand. IRONMAN athletes ‘go big”. For them it is all about pushing beyond perceived limits. This all matches up with what we stand for at the MMRF. The endurance events landscape is changing. Marathon slots are harder to fill. Our partnership with IRONMAN is part of our game plan to expand the portfolio and is a way to avoid putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Tell us of a recent fire you’ve had to put out?

The cancellation of the NYC Marathon certainly comes to mind! When the event was cancelled so close to the race – with so many of our team members having just arrived in town – everyone was so disappointed. The MMRF wanted to honor and thank the team members who raised close to $500,000 to help us fund critical research. We wanted to provide an opportunity for those who came to run to do just that: RUN, and also offer a way for those who wanted to help the victims of the hurricane devastation an opportunity to volunteer as a group. We decided to hold our pre-race reception despite the cancellation of the race, which turned into quite a different type of gathering. It was great way to say thank you to our supporters and was a perfect way for the multiple myeloma supporters to meet each other and to come together as the myeloma running community. Then we helped organize two distinct groups: Those who wanted to run on Sunday in Central Park (even if it was not a full marathon) and those who wanted to volunteer to help in Staten Island. The team party ended up being an amazing gathering. There was a lot of emotion, and we were able to provide a place for people to come share what was in their heart. It was actually an incredibly inspiring weekend, regardless of the fact that the NYRR had to cancel the race.

What is next for you as a P2P fundraiser?

We are tightly staffed and I have had success based on instincts, vision and drive, but our biggest area for growth now will be found by looking outside of our organization. It is time to network and get to know what other organizations are doing to thrive in this environment. As we expand into the 5K space, I am planning to invest the time to benchmark and learn from others.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a career in athletic event fundraising?

Align with an organization whose cause you believe in and make sure you have a personal and regular connection with the people who benefit from the work you do. That’s what will sustain and inspire you.