Welcome to the inaugural post for our new series: Real Cyclocross. As the season moves along, we’ll be sharing interviews with promoters and team directors, tips and tricks for racing and training, case studies detailing specific events, and a lot of other cyclocross-specific content.
For our first interview of the series, we sat down with Alec Donahue, one of the JAM Fund’s founders, to talk about his experience running the annual JAM Fund Grand Fundo (with the help of Jeremy Powers, Mukunda Feldman, the team, and a ton of volunteers).
Ian Gielar and Alec Donahue at Cyclocross Nationals 2018 // photo: Vicky Sama
We know that you started JAM with Jeremy Powers and Mukunda Feldman. What is your specific role on the team?
AD: I run the day-to-day of the program, which involves coaching, mentoring, coordinating community service through JAM projects and the Northampton Cycling Club (NCC), driving the van to races, and running the service course.
Is running the team your full-time job?
AD: It is not. It is 100% volunteer work. We started a 501c3 to allow JAM to be a charitable organization, and the Fundo is our major fundraising mechanism. All of the JAM activities are 100% volunteer.
So what is your day job?
AD: I’ve worked for Cycle-Smart as a coach for more than 15 years. I’m also a promoter of UCI races and cycling camps. All of that is through Cycle-Smart, with Adam Myerson and Jacob Fetty.
Why is the Grand Fundo important to you? Why should people support this ride?
AD: So the first feeling we had was that we wanted to share this with people. The riding in Western Mass has its own character, and from our perspective, it’s as good as riding gets, especially if you’re into ‘cross. The scenery on the roads makes you want to just stop and take things in. And we can’t forget the ice cream truck rest stop and fluffernutters. We wanted the Fundo to show people the kind of riding we’re fortunate enough to have on a day-to-day basis, and also throw a great party at Glendale Ridge Vineyard, which has been a long-time ‘cross training spot.
Also, the event ties into the program’s theme of success being tied to doing hard work.
All the riders on the program put in significant hours of physical labor to make the Fundo the event that it is. I’m a very strong believer in getting your hands dirty and working hard for anything you believe in.
The final part is that it brings together a special community, where it feels like we’re all pitching in to make something special happen. People know that by coming out to the Fundo they’re doing their part in making JAM and the JAM grants a reality.
About the JAM Fund
2018 JAM Fund Team // photo: Vicky Sama
What is the JAM Fund?
AD: It’s a non-profit focused on getting new riders into bike racing (in particular, cyclocross) through mentorship, a strong community, and lowering the financial barriers to entry. It’s all of that, but it’s also that we want to be a friendly presence in the sport and make sure everybody feels welcome doing the thing we love so much.
Cycling is the proxy we use to teach the athletes a set of skills that better prepares them for everything they do in their lives.
We hope to share a set of values that promote investment in the community, a strong work ethic, and the ability to tackle difficult challenges.
About the Grand Fundo
Natalie Tapias and Trent Blackburn // photo: Meg McMahon
Tell us a little about the Fundo.
AD: It’s the best three hours you’ll spend in Western Massachusetts. It’s like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting and ending up in a Robert Frost poem. Secret dirt roads, ice cream trucks located at sugar shacks, rock fences, hidden valleys and streams, good friends… and it all wraps up at a farmhouse vineyard that you wished you could spend the rest of your life at.
How many years have you put on the Fundo?
AD: 9 years.
What does the money go toward?
AD: The majority of the money funds the JAM grant program, which funds 35 grants to help young cyclists pursue their racing. Part of the money goes to the JAM Fund team itself.
How many people generally attend?
AD: Around 350. Since it’s our fundraising mechanism, it would be great if it was bigger. But the great thing about the Fundo is that it has a particular feel. It’s not a mega-event. So it feels like a tight-knit group of friends, which I think we would lose if we got bigger.
Do people come back year after year, or do you find there are more new riders than repeat riders?
AD: Most people are multi-year riders. That’s why we change the course year-to-year and add new loops like this year’s Adventure Ride. We want to keep it fun for people coming back, and reward those who support the program consistently.
Tips and Tricks for Running a Fundraising Event
2018 JAM Fund Grant Recipients // photo: Vicky Sama
What are your top three tips for running an event of this size?
AD: Number one, I’m a firm believer in under promise and over deliver. Start with a scope you know you can achieve with high quality, and grow from there.
Number two, if you’re new to promoting, it’s worth visiting other events that you like to learn from what they do well. The fun part of that is you get to go to a bunch of great events. Much of what is successful will be pretty consistent event to event.
Number three, creating a master document and timeline that lets you replicate what you do year-to-year (with contacts) is a huge help for us. I like to put quantities of everything we order, and reference the participant data in BikeReg, so I can scale up and down based on turn out.
How do you stay organized? What tools/techniques do you have for staying on top of deadlines and on top of the to-dos?
AD: Google Docs and Google Calendar shared with the group. We also use Slack, which is a group messaging platform.
What’s the timeline for putting on an event in the summer? When do you start the process over for next year’s event? How many months are you actively planning leading up to the event?
AD: There are things you have to do as soon as your event is over. Scheduling the date, permitting through the town, securing venues, and opening registration needs to happen immediately. So, there are long-term tasks that are going to be done more than 6 months from your event date. Marketing is also a long-range task, and something to start thinking about right away.
Once the long-range tasks are completed, we’re pretty quiet until about 8 weeks out from the event. Then route changes, the menu, and graphic design start to get worked out.
What kinds of special permits are required to run the Fundo?
AD: We get permits through the town for the raffle, food, and beer. We also have event insurance, landowner permissions, and a police escort by the Southampton Police Department for the start of the ride.
Do you, Jeremy, and Mukunda have areas of expertise?
AD: We try to have as little redundancy as possible. A key to a good working group is that you trust the work other people do. If we micromanaged every detail that the other person is responsible for, we wouldn’t have made it this far. You have to have a good staff and you have to trust their decisions.
How many volunteers do you need, and how do you find them/ensure they show up?
AD: We have roughly 30 volunteers, and getting them to come back is part of building the community over the whole year.
We invest in our cycling community 365 days a year, and hope that community of people sees value in what we do.
Our commitment to growing the sport and providing opportunities has met with favorable response, and people are willing to pay us back with some time put into the Fundo.
How do you solicit donations in the months/weeks/days before the event?
AD: We use PledgeReg, and offer riders free entry to the event if they commit to certain fundraising levels. I think that’s worked really well, and we’re continuing to expand on incentives for that program. I know that BikeReg has a lot of resources for maximizing fundraising efforts, and I actually have a meeting planned for next month to beef up what we do on that end.
Creating the Experience
2018 JAM Fund Grand Fundo // photo: Meg McMahon
How do you choose the routes?
AD: We bring the team out and start scouting for new routes as soon as the Fundo is over. We have so much to choose from, we start making rough drafts and keep riding them. The continuity, or flow, of the event is really important to us.
Adding a great section of road here or there doesn’t always fit in perfectly. We keep riding our rough drafts over and over again until the ride fits together perfectly.
We don’t want it to be too hard or too easy. It’s the right mix of dirt and climbing, breathtaking views, descents, time between rest stops, and total time out on the bike.
What is the fan favorite at the Fundo? What do people love the most?
AD: There isn’t one thing. That’s one of the great things about the fundo, is it keeps hitting you with memorable moments and great road after great road.
It’s the people. It’s the food. It’s the roads. It’s the rivers. It’s the farmhouses and barns. It’s the vineyard. It’s everything. And everything adds up to be more than the individual parts.
JAM Fund PledgeReg Page
What is your process for promoting the Fundo?
AD: We’re still working on that one. Promotion isn’t our strongest suite, and we need to work on better social media advertising. Jeremy does a lot on his Instagram feed, but I would say we’re one of the more under-promoted events.
What is your advice for someone who is considering promoting an event like the Grand Fundo?
AD: Be original. Do what you’re good at. Show people what you love, and work your butt off.
We’re ready to help you with the promotion of your next event!
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