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Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research took a huge gamble bringing their charity bicycle ride in-house. Starting from scratch, their dedication and determination paid off.

With waning participation numbers, a forecast dip in fundraising, and rider experience suffering, the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in WA set out to improve profitability and deliver a more authentic Perkins experience for their two-day, 200km charity bicycle ride, MACA Cancer 200.

With only 10 months to plan for the next event, the team undertook a rebrand, worked with existing and new sponsors, and engaged loyal and new participants to come along for the ride.

Perkins set about to create a special event in which the supporter was front and centre. The philosophy was ‘You may enter the ride as strangers, but you will leave as family’.

“From the outset, we wanted to make it heartfelt, warm and like a hug from a family member.”

“From the outset, we wanted to make it heartfelt, warm and like a hug from a family member,” says Paige Gibbs, Chief Development Officer at Perkins.

Bringing the event in-house and focusing on the supporters paid off. The 2019 MACA Cancer 200 — Ride for Research raised $4.8 million, an increase of more than $1.8 million from 2018, at a lower cost. Participants responded to the revitalised ride with glowing reviews and gave the event an average rating of 4.7 out of five.

This rider’s response epitomises the feedback: “Ever since you guys took this ride in-house, the change in the relationships with riders has been incredible. You guys have mastered the comms, everything from fundraising information to support emails, calls and more. The event is a better experience now that you own it.”

To cap it off, MACA Cancer 200 won Best Supporter Experience at the 2021 FIA National Awards for Fundraising Excellence. 

Injecting fun, rewarding commitment and loyalty

Participants had been vocal in their dislike for the previous rider journey, so getting the elements right was key. Partnering with Donor Republic, a suite of participant-centric initiatives was designed to surprise, delight and motivate riders. 

Engagement was based around ‘three Cs’: Cause, Community and Challenge, with Cause being the most important. “This is beating cancer” became the catchcry of the event.

A Ride Relationships Manager was recruited with a similar background to most of the riders — the resource sector. Steve answered all queries and was the voice of all the comms. A researcher also joined the ride. The recipient of  the funds raised, she became a powerful incentive for  the riders.

With a focus on strong, personalised multi-channel journeys, riders were segmented into Team Captain, Team Participant and Solo Riders. Communications were sometimes segmented between veteran and first-time riders. Volunteers and donors also had their own journeys. Participant and team dashboards delivered real-time stats.

The team provided comprehensive tools for their riders, expertly walking the fine line between detailed communication and a bombardment of information. From incentives, prizes and marketing materials, the language used was fun and engaging, borrowing from cultural references.

Perkins brought life and quirk into the challenge through care packs that included custom poems and competitions giving riders the chance to win the Potty of Power, a personal port-a-loo at camp, and the Happy Camper package, a butler and turn down service. 

“The creative was developed with real wit and spark; the innovative, clever voice of the campaign was received well by riders, fundraisers and supporters,” says FIA award judge Cassie Magin, formerly State Fundraising Manager (SA/NT) of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

“Feedback from previous years was acted upon and the team took risks, which paid off. The team resisted temptation to focus on the known and took chances, resulting in a genuinely meaningful donor experience and the achievement of sought-after financial outcomes.” 

A potent addition was an Honour Roll, with riders who pledged to raise more than the $2,500 minimum elevated to a VIP club. These riders were rewarded with limited edition, branded jerseys, an exclusive set of fundraising tools, kilometres of the ride named in their honour, and special mentions during the ride and the post-event celebration. 

Perkins researchers in their lab coats stood to form the words ‘thank you’ as riders set from the start line. A highlights reel from day one, filmed and edited on the day, was played to riders as part of the camp show on the first night and brought many riders to tears. All returning riders were given jerseys that acknowledged how many years they had been riding. They were also acknowledged at the camp show. 

These small personal touches and focus on supporting and stewarding riders were reflected in their rider feedback: “My goodness, where to begin? It was absolutely incredible. All of it. I will be there in 2020 without a shadow of a doubt. Thank you for helping to create what was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said first-time rider, Alana Phillips.

Gearing up for the 10-year anniversary

This experience was a significant upgrade from the journey previously developed. Perkins also addressed riders concerns about feeling pressured and even harassed by the third-party supplier to meet their fundraising targets – riders had to provide their credit card details in case they failed to meet their targets by
a certain date. Perkins removed this policy, working with riders one-on-one to help them achieve their goals.

As a result of their new strategy and supporter journey, donations increased as did participant engagement. Participation rates stayed the same, but riders raised significantly more, and more of them met the minimum fundraising target. 

At the end of the ride (after an 100km slog in 40-degree heat), over 100 riders registered for the next year’s event. Their major sponsor, MACA, signed a three-year deal to retain their naming rights. 

“A great example of the importance of listening to your community, challenging the status quo and aiming for a point of difference,” says Cassie of the event.

Of course, 2020 presented enormous challenges but Perkins continued their ethos of open and transparent communications and, despite the impact of COVID-19, a rejigged event raised $3.7 million against a target of $1.9 million from 1,222 riders.

Perkins now has all the elements in place for a great 10th anniversary ride in October 2021. 


  • Play to your strengths
  • Bring what you can in-house but don’t ignore the experts
  • Read contracts
  • No one knows your participants like you
  • Invest in a great Relationship Manager 
  • Take risks
  • Find great partners
  • Surprise and delight 
  • Be transparent and accountable 
  • Ask participants for help
  • There are great suppliers out there — find them and keep them

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