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Fundraising is like Skydiving – The Sky Really is the Limit

As Climate Ride’s Fundraising Guru, I often hear folks say “I really care about this cause, but I’ve never fundraised and I just don’t think I can do it!” Fundraising is a lot like I imagine skydiving to be.  The mechanics aren’t so difficult, but getting started can be terrifying for some of us!  It’s important to note, however, that fundraising difficulties are much less stressful than those occurring while skydiving.

Here are the stories behind four of Climate Ride’s top fundraisers in 2014. All four stepped out of their comfort zones, took the plunge (so to speak) and found the results to be wonderfully exhilarating! Lauren Van Ham did an Independent Challenge riding her bike across the state of Nebraska.  Dave Howes, Dan Leaverton and Greg Laemmle all participated in Climate Ride California 2014. Here’s what they have to share about their inspiration to ride, setting their sights at $10k, and their tips for other fundraisers.


Dan Leaverton is a San Francisco resident who loves cycling. Dan is now the 2nd highest All Time Fundraiser and says, “Ultimately, the deciding factor to join Climate Ride was my desire to make a difference and meet folks locally in my community to make cycling safer and easier for all. I want my kids to ride to school as easily as I did in Davis in the 70’s.” Dan, who raised $16,253, chose Bike East Bay as his beneficiary, which works for safe, convenient and enjoyable bicycling for all people in the East Bay.

As a bike commuter, Greg Laemmle shares Dan’s passion for cycling. Greg, who owns Laemmle Theaters in L.A., chose to support the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, which works to build a better, more bike-able Los Angeles County. Greg is Climate Ride’s All Time Top Fundraiser, having raised $16,646 for this year’s California ride. He says what inspired him to get involved was “the idea that I could participate in a great event and help my beneficiary at the same time.”

Dave Howes raised $14,500, and is passionate about environmental issues as is evidenced by two electric cars and solar installation on his home. This year Dave’s beneficiary is San Francisco Bike Coalition, which is dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities for all San Franciscans.  Dave’s interest in Climate Ride was sparked by a friend who had participated previously. Now, Dave says simply, “My heart is there!”

Finally, Lauren Van Ham, raised $10,710 as part of Climate Ride’s new Independent Challenge program. Lauren is an ordained interfaith minister. She refers to her life’s work as “Eco Chaplaincy” a practice that invites continual conversation and curiosity with humans everywhere so that we might create a sustainable future for all life on this planet.  Lauren chose three beneficiaries: (a Vermont based non-profit working on global grassroots movements to hold leaders accountable to the realities of science and principles of justice); Interfaith Power & Light (a national organization with a network of congregations 15,000 strong advocating for climate and environmental awareness); and World Bicycle Relief (a non-profit bringing bikes in communities across Africa to bolster cultural and economic development).

Lauren contacted her potential donors often and consistently via a blog she kept about her entire Climate Ride across Nebraska experience.  In her fundraising efforts she highlighted each of her beneficiaries at different times. She hoped that if one of her beneficiaries didn’t resonate with potential donors, another would.

Reaching for $10k

Dan Leaverton says he never thought he would reach $10k, “or perhaps even $2800!”  After friends and family kicked in a little starting money “I easily raised about $4k with my first blast to my network.” Upon meeting folks at BEB and hearing how excited they were, and that his efforts would really make a difference, Dan was compelled to do more fundraising.

Greg Laemmle, a two-time inductee to the $10k Club, says he set his goal at 10K and had a huge positive response from his potential donors. When fundraising, Greg says, “Keep in mind that you are not asking for the money for yourself, but for the cause, for the environment. You should be your first donor because they (potential donors) need to know it’s important to you.  If you’re not donating to your campaign it makes a statement that is not encouraging to others.”

Dave Howes said he hated asking for money until a friend advised him, “You should look at it like you’re giving them the opportunity to do something.”  Dave now says, “I’m giving them the opportunity to do something for their grandkids!” Besides email blasts, Dave also offered rides to the airport in his electric car to friends in exchange for donations.  He also became a Lyft Driver and donated all of his proceeds to the cause.

Advice from Masters of Fundraising

“My early fundraising messages were about my family and kids cycling safely,” says Dan Leaverton. “I knew this would resonate with the hundreds of professionals in my network far more than the climate crisis. Make your request personal and accessible for all to join … Be PERSISTENT. You have to ask some people many times to get them at the right time to give you 5 minutes and $50. Be organized. Have a good means to track all requests sent to avoid repetition and fatigue. Take extra time to scour your address books – Everyone I met in the last seven years got my message at least once.”

Dan’s advice to be persistent and reach out to everyone was echoed by all of our top fundraisers.  Lauren Van Ham took it one step further. “Ask everybody, and everybody’s everybody.” Lauren reached out to everyone she knew, and then asked a family member if she could reach out to their friends as well. Dave Howes adds “aside from normal email, which you have to do consistently, send a little story or a photo of where you are training.” Greg Laemmle was succinct. “Leave no stone unturned!” 

Some of our top fundraisers were very comfortable reaching out to potential donors. Others, like Dan, were surprised by how many folks liked his efforts and his commitment. Dan says he learned “how satisfying it is to give back and make a difference, how wonderful it is to meet your local advocates supporting your interests and be treated like someone special! I loved it all.”

We’re sure you’ll agree that these amazing $10k Club members deserve our congratulations and a special “thank you” but we’re grateful to all of our Climate Ride participants for getting involved and making a difference. We want to remind you, if you need help, suggestions or maybe a little inspiration, please let us know.  If you too want to shoot for the 10K stars, we’re here to help! As Lauren Van Ham said “If I was going to describe what’s important at this time, it’s taking this message of urgency to the masses, helping them see this is scary, but we are all part of the story that is going to fix this, every single one of us.”

Russ Mendivil is Climate Ride’s Rider Representative and Fundraising Guru.