Like many high-level athletes, 400m runner Eseroghene Omene dedicates her time to training, and spends her spare time looking for ways to advance her career. Yet, there is a fine balance between self-promotion and making sure you stay focused on your athletic goals.
Eseroghene recently shared her story on MAKEACHAMP, and soon after, her story became viral. She found herself on radio shows, sports blogs, as well local TV news. A month later, she raised 136% of her goal to go to the Pan American games this August, in Toronto.
How did she do it? We set down and discussed with her about how she communicated and raised the necessary funds. Here is her 7 main points.
1. START EARLY
Often, athletes start their official social media accounts a few days before they need the funds. Why would anyone contribute if they don't know you? It’s better to share your story as soon as possible.
Having a Facebook fan page and/or Instagram account where you constantly share results, advice, moments in the life of an athlete, as well as temporary setbacks, brings you good karma and fans that you can capitalize later.
For Ese Omene, her Instagram added “realness" to her profile:
The instagram videos just showed people that what I'm doing is real. That I'm really out there every day giving it my all on the track. I felt it was a good way to connect with people and let them feel like they were really a part of my journey.
2. SHARE & TELL YOUR STORY, DON'T SELL IT
For Ese, it was important to "just remain honest and genuine and ... try [not] to sell my story, as much as just [tell] my story". In fundraising campaigns, contributors back people, not products. That's why it is important to show potential backers how you came to your current situation. Share your past training, what you have achieved before, how important your discipline is to you, and why the next competition matters. Make it simple, clear and transparent.
Too often, athletes see commercial ads on TV. It's easy to copy the approach but if it is not done carefully, it comes off as unauthentic.
In Ese's case, she also added training sequences in her video. Featuring your athletic achievements, on video preferably, is what we consider the meat of a campaign. They establish required credibility.
In a similar way, when you launch your fundraising campaign, reach out about sharing and not contributing. Sharing lets you reach beyond the circle of friends and family. This is how it worked out for Ese Omene :
When I first launched the video I just put it on my Facebook and Twitter page, then whoever I was friends with first would obviously see it. A big thing I did was to not push for contributions, but more so for people to share my story. I knew that the more people who would just see what I'm doing and what I'm working for, the more likely people would contribute. For the first 20 days I sat at only 20% for my funding. I continued to just promote on my Facebook and Twitter, but I also realized that I needed to reach beyond that.
3. HAVE AN INSPIRING GOAL
Ese makes it clear that she is training for the Pan Am games, but her true personal goal is the next #Rio2016 games. At MAKEACHAMP, successful campaigns present a competition, with a date and location. Many failed campaigns, in contrast, are about paying for the athlete's regular training fees or nutrition. Who would want to pay for someone's operational expenses?
As such, it's important to state that funds will be invested in future athletic gains.
Most contributors, even close friends and family, rarely know the financial reality of athletes. There is a misconception that government bodies are giving generous grants, or alternatively local sports institutions provide free assistance and free training, and magically appear like stars in an Olympic stadium. What about wealthy companies who are competing to sponsor them?
It's important to inform supporters and friends that this is not the truth.
This was Ese's approach:
A couple big parts in the feature I think was letting the audience know, 1) if I didn't get fully funded I was get nothing from the campaign, 2) highlighting that in a year I can spend upwards of $10,000 for training and in turn only make $2000 in prize money, and 3) my comment about being a 'volunteer sprinter' really touched a lot of people as well. I think when it came down to it, letting people know that I'm not doing this for the money, but I am just truly chasing a dream I've had since I was a little girl.
Another essential point in Ese's pitch was that she is covering most expenses. Contributors are reassured knowing that she is investing personally, and they will not be alone assuming the risks. Being transparent about who else has contributed, such as sponsors, family, friends and institutions, all add credibility to your campaign, and help reassure potential contributors.
For the sake of transparency, consider adding a detailed list of your expenses to your campaign description, and explain why the funds are necessary.
5. LEARN HOW TO USE MODERN TOOLS
If having an inspiring goal, being transparent, and most importantly showcasing yourself as an athlete is the "meat" of a fundraising campaign, using modern tools would be "the spice" of a campaign.
In Ese's case, she was lucky to have fellow athlete friends who took a few drone shots of their training:
A couple guys in my training group were working on a video to promote the track team at the university I train at. So at first I just asked them to send me any video they had captured of me, but then they offered to not only focus on me for a couple practices to get footage, but also to help put it together. One day one of their friends came with their drone to get some of the overhead shots. Then finally the last part to the video was getting the audio of my story to overlay on the video. Once again I just stayed genuine and told my story, let people see and know that this hasn't been a one year thing, that I've been working on this since 2012 and that now I'm closer than ever.
Using crowdfunding and Facebook also adds spice to a fundraising campaign. You can thank financial contributors on Facebook, generating a me-too trend. Sharing videos and encouraging shares is the engine of a crowdfunding campaign, in most cases.
Instagram and Twitter also adds a little bit of "spice". They can get you a few valuable sponsors and also journalists who are all on Twitter. However, Instagram and Twitter don't generate direct contributions as much as Facebook, and you have to be careful with them. Here's what Ese has to say :
I have mixed feelings about Twitter and Instagram for athletes. Obviously in my campaign it was very helpful in spreading the word of my story and reaching people I otherwise would have much difficulty doing (i.e: tv stations, football players) I also feel like it can become a distraction though. I've seen where 'likes' on instagram have completely consumed athletes, and they lose their focus and performances fail. I feel like finding a happy medium can be very difficult.
Photo credit : @arthurimages Arthur Ward
6. LOCAL NEWS ARE YOUR FRIENDS
How do you promote your fundraising campaigns? Most athletes and their friends go to popular sports outlets or general national news. But these media outlets get a lot of pitches, and even if you are lucky, they will not be committed. Big-name journalists are more interested in running after celebrities!
The local TV station or the local newspaper are the athlete's best friends, especially if there is a recent achievement. Local news are the life blood of local communities, and brings high engagement. Reporters better understand your plea and as a result, are more committed.
Ese's chance was contacting the news back at home:
I knew I was coming home back to Saskatchewan, so I contacted the local TV station about appearing on one of the sports talk shows to promote my campaign. On Twitter I mentioned a couple of the TV stations to see if they would also help support me, then I mentioned some of the Profession Football players in the community to help spread my campaign as well. I was still operating on the ideal that just spreading the word and having people just see the video would help to grow my campaign.
After appearing on the first community TV station, I gave them a shout out on my Facebook and Twitter. Shortly after that a gentleman from CBC Sports here in Regina contacted me that he would like to help promote my video on the evening news the upcoming Monday. Once again, just pushing the promotion of my video more than emphasizing the contributions was really my focus. Once I appeared on CBC my campaign just skyrocketed. Within an hour of appearing on the news I went from 20% to 91%.
7. CONNECT WITH YOUR SUPPORTERS
If focus on your athletic goal should be the number one priority, it's also important to let supporters be part of the story. In a way, by sharing or contributing, they are contributing to your success. What was at the beginning a one-person effort, becomes a collective victory. So provide a way for supporters to cheer when the moment is right and to support when you need it.
Ese Omene totally gets it:
I felt it was a good way to connect with people and let them feel like they were really a part of my journey. And really they are. Every time I got a contribution, or saw people sharing my video it really gave me this feeling inside, that this was gonna happen and I was gonna do it. It felt like that boost athletes get when the crowd cheers for them coming down the home stretch. The feeling that people are behind you on what you are trying to do is indescribable, and really just pushed me to want to be the champ that they are supporting me to be.
In the end, Ese Omene raised $6140 and is on her way to the Pan Am Games. The campaign alone has already started to help her by raising her confidence by seeing the kind of support she has out there.
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