Back in 1977, Billy Starr hopped on his bicycle and went for a ride. His mother had just died from melanoma and pushing the limits of the physical body helped Starr grieve the loss of his mother.

On one rather strenuous ride, Starr had an idea. He and his friends would make a weekend of cycling, but instead of just pushing their physical and mental limits, their pedaling efforts would go to raise money for cancer.

Starr had found a deeper purpose in life. It was now time for him to live intentionally and embrace it.

“I was an athlete. I wanted to merge some of the things that I had embraced as an athlete: the commitment, the sweat equity, the teamwork, the camaraderie (all of the things I had enjoyed about sport) and commit it to a higher purpose,” said Starr on arecent interview.

This year, Starr and his team over at the Pan Mass Challenge have set the bold fundraising goal of $45 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund’s lifesaving mission to conquer cancer.

Starr and his friends are inevitably responsible for the “a-thon” fundraising strategy popular in endurance sports like running, cycling, triathlon, or obstacle course racing.

What makes the Pan-Mass Challenge different from the many other “a-thons” out there is that fundraising is the core purpose of the event. And, of course, Starr created this fundraising model well before computers were in our living rooms (or in our pockets for that matter).

“But, most importantly, this ride, while being an inspirational physical, spiritual and emotional weekend, put fundraising at the center of the event. This was not about awareness. You carried a commitment,” says Starr.

Perhaps you have a cause that you too wish to fundraise for. In that case, here are five tips that Starr shared with me to have a successful fundraising event.

“It’s interesting how negative reinforcement can actually have some very positive end results.” @starrpmc

“You have to love your work. That should matter more than compensation.” @starrpmc

Billy Starr joins us on the show today to talk about how he started the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). He is the Pan-Mass Challenge founder and executive director and we’re going to learn all about that and how he got into doing that – it’s really cool.

The Pan-Mass Challenge is a 190-mile bike-a-thon. Today, it has raised a total of – get this – $455 million, for adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since 1980, and that is a little bit before I was born, so that’s awesome. In 2015, they aim to raise another $45 million.

We’ll also be diving into PMC’s role in cancer research. Billy is actually the first guest of the show who’s using an endurance sport to raise money for cancer.

The PMC will be on August 1st and 2nd, 2015. You can catch the live televised opening ceremonies on WBZTV.

Billy Starr

On this Coffee Chat:

  • Billy’s personal story on how he started PMC
  • How athletes can contribute to a higher purpose
  • How PMC grew organically through word-of-mouth and unapologetic fundraising
  • PMC as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that’s 100% committed to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • PMC’s role in keeping Dana-Farber the leading institute for cancer research
  • PMC’s fundraising strategies
  • The importance of volunteers
  • Virtual cyclists
  • How they keep it relevant at PMC
  • ADVICE for fundraisers: recognize the highs and lows and get your community to work with you.



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