Ride to Farm – A University Fundraising Event

In 2004, two agriculture instructors from western Wisconsin decided that they wanted to turn their passion for cycling into a fundraiser for a cause they believed in. These teachers—Brad Sirianni and Merle Richter—connected with Dick Cates, who directs the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. A small group of riders collected pledges for the school and rode their bikes 230 miles from Eau Claire to Madison.  This was the beginning of Ride to Farm.

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The Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers meets the critical need to train, mentor and support Wisconsin’s next generation of farmers. The program emphasizes low-capital, environmentally friendly, grass-based dairy farming. Nearly 400 students have attended the school and about 75 percent of its graduates are farming. The school is sponsored by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Farm and Industry Short Course, both within the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In its first six years, Ride to Farm focused on cultivating awareness of the School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. The ride organizers built excellent relationships with businesses and farm organizations that became ride sponsors. The number of cyclists on the ride was limited, however, for a number of reasons, including the challenge of manually processing registrations and pledges.

In 2009, Ride to Farm began investigating options for online registration and pledging. We didn’t have the funding or technical expertise in-house to build our own site or purchase fundraising software that would meet our needs.  We decided on DoJiggy online fundraising software because it provided the services we needed at a price we could afford.

For our event, one of the biggest advantages of DoJiggy was its large number of options for payment processing. Because our school is part of a university, opening a PayPal account for our event was not feasible. DoJiggy offered a payment processing option that allowed us to move donations directly to the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

DoJiggy has enabled us to open up Ride to Farm to the general public. Our original, small group of riders (which continues to participate enthusiastically in Ride to Farm) largely hails from the agricultural community, including many farmer-graduates of the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers.  Increasingly, we are attracting riders from the cycling community who may not know much about agriculture. This is a win-win for everyone. Ride to Farm gets more riders and pledges, and our urban riders get to visit farms using sustainable agricultural practices, meet farmers, taste their products and learn about the value of supporting beginning farmers.

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While we do not charge a registration fee for our ride, we ask our riders to raise a minimum of $50. Riders have told us that this is a reasonable requirement. While this minimum may go up in the future, we are committed to keeping our ride affordable for everyone. We currently offer prizes for our top fundraisers; this has motivated some of our riders to bring in generous donations. As we grow, we have discussed switching to prizes for defined pledge milestones in order to encourage more people to exceed the minimum pledge amount.

DoJiggy’s email list makes it easy to regularly contact our riders about pledge deadlines and ride details. Our fundraising website is where we organize and communicate details about routes, product sales, safety, sponsors and other important information. By promoting our ride through social media, websites and email lists, we have been able to reduce the costs associated with mailed promotional materials for this event.

Ride to Farm is still a relatively modest event. In 2011, we raised about $5,000 in pledges. Using DoJiggy’s services, however, has put us in a position where we can now focus on increasing riders, pledges and sponsors because our fundraising infrastructure is in place. Ultimately, we hope that this will result in more scholarships and support for young people who want to start—and succeed—in farming.

This guest post provided by Cris Carusi, Communications Manager at UW-Madison Center for Integrarted Agricultural Systems. For more information about Ride to Farm, visit ridetofarm.dojiggy.com. You can learn more about the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers at www.cias.wisc.edu/dairysch.html.