Is fundraising worth the risk?

Kelley Griesmer
Chief Operating Officer, Pelotonia

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Pelotonia’s Kelley Griesmer, Class of 1993, talks about the risk of passing up opportunities to impact the greater good.

Six years ago, I was a partner at one of the largest law firms in the world. I spent most of my days at a desk or on the phone. I didn’t own a bike. Helping to start a bike tour that would raise millions for cancer research had never entered my mind.

And then life happened.

In September 2008, Tom Lennox asked me if I would be interested in becoming the director of operations at a newly minted nonprofit called Pelotonia. I accepted, and I’ve never looked back. It was the best professional decision of my life.

People often ask how I decided to make such a dramatic change, leaving behind a successful and, of course, more lucrative career for something that was still nothing more than a cool idea. How did I accept the risk?

The truth is, I didn’t see it as a risk. Sure, it’s difficult to take a significant pay cut. I worried about providing the same opportunities for my son and burdening my husband with a larger share of our family’s expenses, especially in a less-than-robust economic climate. But in the end, those financial concerns felt like obstacles, not risks.

What did feel like a risk was passing up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of something that would make such a big difference in the lives of so many. Something courageous, powerful and inspiring. Something that would impact the greater good.

Although many won’t believe it, the truth is that many lawyers, myself included, choose to go to law school because they simply want to help people. I studied at the Moritz College of Law because I knew a legal education would provide me with skills that would allow me to positively impact the world around me. I was naively optimistic for sure, but in the end, I am happy to say I was right.

Still, it took me a long while, almost 15 years, to find the path that was meant for me. Passing up the chance to follow that path and hoping a similar opportunity would come around again would have been the risk of a lifetime.

When I answer questions about riding in Pelotonia, I often revisit the topic of risk when people tell me they are hesitant to make the fundraising commitment required to participate in Pelotonia.

They have heard how much fun Pelotonia weekend is; they own a bike; and, most importantly, they hate cancer and what it has done to people they love. But they are still reluctant – sometimes downright afraid – to “risk” trying to fundraise and putting themselves and their own credit cards on the line. In some ways, I get that.

But for all those who feel that committing to raise funds is a risk, I would ask that you take a minute to consider a different perspective. If you are passionate about ending cancer – or promoting any other good philanthropic cause (and there are too many to count) – the risk is not the commitment to raise the funds, it’s the decision to pass up the opportunity to try.

For many of us, we routinely accept much larger financial commitments. There are home mortgages, car loans and tuition bills to name just a few. Yet, over and over again, we bite the bullet and put in the hard work it takes to get what we need (or maybe just want).

But when it comes to committing to raise funds for research that will change the world as we know it – research that could very likely save the life of someone we love – we still grow fearful to the point of not trying. And as many facing cancer have told me, it’s the fear that’s the worst part.

If you accept the risk and agree to try fundraising, what’s really the worst that could happen? Perhaps some of your friends and family will say no when you ask?

In my experience, that will happen a lot less than you think. After all, you aren’t asking them to do something for you specifically. You are giving them the opportunity to help you help others. You are asking them to invest in all of our futures.

And even if they say no, what have you lost by asking? Absolutely nothing. But if you don’t ask, you’ve lost the opportunity to be part of something that will make a significant difference in the lives of so many. Something courageous, powerful and inspiring. Something that will impact the greater good.

If I’m lucky, I will have the chance to take that risk time and again – the risk that I can help others, the risk that I can leave the world a little better place than I found it.

I’ll take that risk every time, and I hope you will too.

About the author

Kelley Griesmer
Kelley Griesmer
Chief Operating Officer, Pelotonia

Kelley Griesmer is the chief operating officer of Pelotonia. Griesmer is a 1993 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and a former partner at the law firm of Jones Day.


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