How to create a £1 million event with Duchenne UK

Molly Hunt, Head of Communications at Duchenne UK, explains how the Duchenne Dash went from a £200,000 event to raising over a million pounds annually for the charity in just six years, and offers her tips on how other charities can create and grow a successful event

How did a bike ride become the biggest fundraising event in a charity’s calendar? In the case of the Duchenne Dash, a 24-hour sponsored ride from London to Paris in aid of Duchenne UK, it began with a personal ambition. “It started six years ago when our patron Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 News presenter, cycled from London to Paris. It was something he’d always wanted to do so he and his friends just did it,” explains Molly Hunt, Head of Communications at Duchenne UK. While the event started small, it didn’t stay that way for long. Last year’s event raised more than £1 million and involved 160 riders.

Here’s how Duchenne UK did it and how other charities can create their own tent-pole fundraising event.

Know when you are on to a winner

The first race was intended as just a one-off, but when following the success of the first year they realised that the event had the potential to become an annual affair. “When Krishnan and his friends shared pictures of that first ride we got lots of messages saying ‘that looks great, how can we join you next year?’,” says Molly. By knowing there was interest ahead of time, Duchenne UK had the confidence to organise a bigger ride the following year and it has grown every year since.

Target your audience

The Duchenne Dash deliberately targeted keen cyclists knowing that they would be enticed by the challenge of riding to Paris in 24 hours. Once the target group had been identified it was a case of giving them something that would appeal to them – in the Duchenne Dash’s case it was a grand finish in Paris. “For cyclists the Tour de France is the biggest race of the year, so we deliberately emulated the ending of that,” says Molly. “We have motorbike escorts stopping the traffic for the cyclists in a rolling road block. That means we arrive into Paris along the Champs-Élysées in a near-Tour de France fashion”. Molly says it is about finding whatever it is that makes your event special. “I’d encourage any charity to find that one moment that really appeals to whatever audience they are looking at,” says Molly. “Once you have that, the rest follows”.

Think photo opportunities

Each cyclist pays an entry fee which goes towards the logistics of the event, Duchenne UK don’t spend any money on marketing, trusting social media and word of mouth to attract new riders. “We don’t advertise at all,” says Molly. “We spread the word though by providing videos and photos to participants to share with friends considering taking part. Once people see what a great event it is they want to be involved too.” The Duchenne Dash has become a kind of exclusive club, which fundraisers are queuing up to join. Which is a fantastic position for any charity to be in. “We are lucky,” says Molly. “A lot of people who complete the ride want to do it again the following year and bring their friends with them. We fill the places quickly every year.”

Keep the timeframe manageable

Another tip Molly offers is to carefully consider the time your target audience have available to them. “Limiting the ride to 24 hours creates a very intense experience, but it is a time period that busy people can sign up to,” she says. “You have to sleep on the ferry on the way out, which is a bit of an ordeal for some, but it helps bond the group. You’re really on no sleep when you arrive into France the next morning, but the adrenaline and the atmosphere keep you going. Everyone is riding together with the same mission – to help end Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).”

The details matter

Molly believes a successful event is about creating a chain of small memorable moments and Duchenne UK dedicates a lot of time to the minor details. “The riders are looked after from the start to the finish,” she says. “They’re given food at every rest stop, get fresh rather than instant coffee, and cold beers when they arrive in Paris. These small details matter.” The event ends with a gala dinner overlooking the Eiffel Tower, but Molly realises that while not every event can end with a spectacular view of Paris, the same attention to detail can make any event in any setting a success. “I think the really successful events give people something special but this doesn’t need to be expensive,” she says.

About Duchenne UK

Duchenne UK is a highly focused, ambitious charity with a clear vision: to fund and accelerate treatments and a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). It was formed in 2016 when Joining Jack and the Duchenne Children’s Trust, two of the UK’s biggest charity funders of research, joined forces.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating muscle-wasting disease and the most common genetic killer of children worldwide. There is no treatment or cure. Children will be totally paralysed by their teens and won’t live beyond their 20s. But thanks to recent breakthroughs, Duchenne UK believes they can be saved.

About Duchenne UK

Duchenne UK is a highly focused, ambitious charity with a clear vision: to fund and accelerate treatments and a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). It was formed in 2016 when Joining Jack and the Duchenne Children’s Trust, two of the UK’s biggest charity funders of research, joined forces.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating muscle-wasting disease and the most common genetic killer of children worldwide. There is no treatment or cure. Children will be totally paralysed by their teens and won’t live beyond their 20s. But thanks to recent breakthroughs, Duchenne UK believes they can be saved.