After 20 years of holding awareness walks, you would think that the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin (DSAW)
would know how to throw an awesome party that people in DS community would want to be a part of. And you would be right!
Almost 2,000 people filled the Milwaukee Zoo to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the DSAW Awareness Walk. Dressed up in a super hero theme, the Walk was not unlike a giant birthday party, with an enormous cake, carnival games, crafts and live music. A self-advocate showcase introduced with celebrity fanfare the teens and adults with Down syndrome, who entered by red carpet to cheers and high fives.
"I [am] passionate about including and re-engaging families with older children and adults with Down syndrome," said DSAW Executive Director Dawn Nuoffer. "We wanted all ages to feel excited about being at [our Awareness Walk]."
And the numbers proved it. DSAW's Awareness walk saw an increase of 600 more participants and a 30% increase in fundraising revenue.
Like most walks, DSAW's started small and simple and grew a little bit each year. They didn't focus as much on the event bells and whistles, but more about making the walk about the families and the community coming together for Down syndrome. 20 years later, it continues to be all about the families.
20 years of walks also means a lot of trial and error. So Dawn provided some humble advice for other DSA Awareness Walks:
1. Keep it simple and small, especially in the beginning.
2. Couple your walk with a natural destination or family attraction to draw in more attendees (DSAW holds their walk at the local zoo.)
3. It's not going to be perfect. Even after 20 years, we're still figuring things out. We always will find things to improve or do differently.
4. Have fun with it. Don't take yourself so seriously. You're going to improve every year. Focus on the families coming together. The attendees don't see the little things that go wrong. It's the intention and enthusiasm they go home with.
5. Fundraising is important, but the tangible return is the relationships. Generating enthusiasm for our mission to then interest people in philanthropy.
6. Launch your site early - at least four months before your walk to give people time to procrastinate.
7. Find different ways and different times to tell your story throughout the year - not just during Walk season. This way the Walk isn't about awareness of your organization, it's all about people with Down syndrome.
8. Have a really cool t-shirt with fun graphics and colors, where sponsors will want to see their logos, that people will want to wear all the time.