How MD Anderson Cancer Center Sold Out Its P2P Walk

I never had this happen before. My client, MD Anderson Cancer Center, emailed to ask how many registrants would likely not show up at its peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising event, because the event was oversold. Its organizers needed to figure out if they could take more registrations for people who planned to attend.

The MD Anderson Boot Walk to End Cancer will happen on Nov. 12, 2017, in Houston. But on Oct. 20, it achieved its goal of $500,000 in individual fundraising. Add to that more than 5,000 registrants and sponsorships of more than $165,000 already committed, and it is a very good day.



How, you ask, do you oversell a P2P walk? Clearly, you can run out of space, which the Boot Walk did. But almost never does enthusiasm overwhelm capacity for a walk! Endurance, sure. 5Ks, it can happen. Cycling, a common occurrence. But overselling a walk? Unheard of. What made this happen? When Turnkey and MD Anderson constructed the strategy for this event, there were some big choices to make.

  • Registration fee? No.

  • High profile, best of breed, athletic event? No.

  • Stuff for sale on site? No.

  • Required minimum fundraising? No.

  • Mass media acquisition? No.

  • Largely run by volunteers? Yes.

  • Ability to direct funds? Yes.

  • Robust recognition of successful fundraisers? Yes.

  • P2P recruitment? Yes.

This event was built on the following psychological principle: Social relationships are connected to intrinsic labels and motivation, which drive fundraising.

That’s a mouthful. Here is what it means: Being in a social relationship means that you exhibit behaviors (do stuff) because you see yourself a certain way, not because you have been enticed by some reward. In a social relationship, your intrinsic label leads you to say, “I’m here because it is the right thing to do.”

Here is an example of someone being in a social relationship with the commensurate intrinsic label: “I registered for the Boot Walk because my friend asked me to support her.”

That person’s intrinsic label is “good friend.”

On the other side of the coin is someone who registered for an entirely different reason: “I registered for the Boot Walk because I heard my favorite band would be playing at the event.”

This person’s intrinsic label is, “I am a music lover.” And music lovers don’t fundraise.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Exposing people to different experiences can cause them to reframe their relationships. We are all familiar with the term “transactional.” Most of the time we think that transactional is bad, although we can’t quite put our fingers on just why. In this case, the person who showed up in order to support his friend, once having had a purchase-worthy experience delivered, may change his mind set to, “I must have shown up for the band.” We’ve changed a social relationship into a transaction. That’s bad, because people who are in transactional relationships have to be offered rewards in order to come back for more. People in social relationships return because—you got it—it’s the right thing to do.

The construct of the Boot Walk made sure that no one showed up for the band. The experience is important, and it will be a fantastic one. Great care has been taken to avoid suggesting that people are involved in a transactional experience. As an example, rather than having food for purchase, it will be donated and provided to participants for free.

The proof that the event itself is not what drives fundraising is the $563,093 that is showing online as of the writing of this blog. For a P2P walk event in its inaugural year. An event that still hasn’t happened.