The Polar Plunge Festival is Special Olympics Virginia’s premier annual fundraising drive.
Participants—or “plungers”—raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the lead up to five plunge events, which culminate in participants taking ice-cold dips in frigid waters. The funds help Special Olympics Virginia provide year-round sports training, competition, leadership, opportunities, and health services to more than 21,000 athletes of all abilities.
Motivating participants to raise more money helps the organization meet its fundraising goals, but engaging supporters isn’t easy. Special Olympics Virginia has to compete with dozens of other organizations in a participant’s email inbox, and the social media space is just as crowded. “We needed a new channel to reach out to people,” says Holly Claytor, Senior Director of Public Relations at Special Olympics Virginia. “We have a great email database, but we were pushing really hard just to get people to pay attention. I get a lot of emails too. I get it.”
Texting, however, was a different story. “You can easily ignore and delete an email, but people tend to read and respond to texts,” she says. “Plus, they’re short, so people tend to pay more attention.”