The Canary Foundation has held a popular event during the San José Grand Prix for the past three years. The CXO and Celebrity Go-Kart Challenge event features celebrities and CEOs racing against each other in go-karts.

Only CEOs and top level executives are invited to participate in this special event. It is quite popular and this year the Canary Foundation raised $270,000 from this event alone. In the past three years it has raised a little under $700,000 to date.

A Unique and Different Event: Go-Karts!

Go-kart events can be fun, and different. The Canary Foundation does an entire week of events during the San José Grand Prix week, this year held during July 25th through July 29th. Their events helped the charity to raise 1.3 million this year from these special events alone.

“Canary Foundation’s fundraising plan focuses on major gifts, so part of our strategy is to reach individuals with a net worth capable of making a significant gift. We looked at the activities that they liked to participate in and there were several areas that were identified. One of them was car racing. Our founder, Don Listwin is the owner of the San José Grand Prix,” said McCowan.

Interested In Getting A Celebrity or CEO Involved in Your Event? Consider These Suggestions!

“I want to address something else before I head into this question. This event is one part of our overall fundraising plan. We have many events during race week. Each event is targeted to a different group of individuals. Our vision is to offer an engagement opportunity for everyone in the community by the end of race week. (July 25 – 29 this past year). This particular event looks to engage the CEO community. Understand that this event can be applied to a different demographic. San José happens to have a large CEO community. We chose this as an event for them,” said McCowan.

“So the first thing for us was to engage celebrities. We did that through our connections with Champ Car Racing. Once you have celebrities who have committed to the race, it is easier to get your CEOs. Celebrities for us include national celebrities that are in entertainment or car racing. Once we had secured two to three celebrities then we looked at our business community and made a decision that we only would enroll the top CEOs of companies. Then we identified and approached one or two key executives that we knew if they agreed to race it would be a draw to get everybody else onboard. Then we had a group of executives that were willing to talk it up with the peer executives in their network. The first year of course is the most challenging because you’ve got the highest expenses and you’re starting to build your CEOs. This means its key the first year to make sure the event is well run and the CEOs have a good time. CEOs can be very competitive. After the first year, there was a lot of trash talking between competitors which meant there were more people who wanted to participate the following year. We decided to limit participation to the top three executives of a company, thus the name CXO,” said McCowan.

When Planning A Go-Kart Event: Look At Your Expenses

When asked about expenses, McCowan explains that the first year is the biggest initial investment. “One of the key things if you want to do a go-kart event is to find your local go-kart racing organization and have a conversation with them regarding the venue and the go-karts. The San José Grand Prix creates a race track for the champ cars in downtown San José. We locate our race track within the grounds of their race. If you go to the San José Grand Prix website, you will see the words “We proudly support the Canary Foundation.” The initial investments for most will be safety gear and equipment to put the event on (go-carts, bales of straw or tires for the course, lease of venue for event and insurance). The other potential investment is safety equipment such as helmets and suits – everything to do this properly,” said McCowan.

There is also the concern of security for your celebrities, or high-level professionals. “Besides your food expenses and equipment rentals, the other big expense will probably be security for your celebrities. If you want to make sure your celebrities and CEOs return, make sure they were well taken care of and had no security concerns,” said McCowan.

The Canary Foundation has been fortunate to obtain sponsorship, especially through their strong relationship with the San José Grand Prix. “Because we are part of the events at the San José Grand Prix, we have to coordinate our efforts with them. We don’t want to be going in and asking a company for a sponsorship for our event at the same time the San José Grand Prix is asking for a sponsorship from them or from a competitor. They need to know who we plan to approach and what we are asking for,” said McCowan.

The Most Challenging Aspect of This Event is The Factor That Makes It Most Appealing

Running an event of this type does have its challenges. When asked what McCowan thought was the most challenging aspect of the event, she points to the factor that makes the event so very appealing: the celebrities. “Besides the intricacies of the race, I think it’s working with the celebrities; making sure they have a safe, good time: security, safety and schedule. There is a team that is assigned to security and another team assigned to hospitality in addition to those working on the execution of the race itself. Celebrities have to have their own place to get away from everyone else. We bring a motor coach onto the site for the one or two celebrities to use if they need to get away,” said McCowan.

Benefits of A Strong Sponsor Relationship

Having the San José Grand Prix as a sponsor certainly is a great benefit for this event in many ways. Two factors include audience attendance and publicity for the event.

The number of people are limited in the race area for security and safety reasons. The Canary Foundation does not charge attendance, but they are on the San José Grand Prix race grounds, so people that watch the event have already paid a fee to get into the area. “We make sure we are positioned so that people can watch and see what is going on, but they aren’t where the participants and celebrities are. I’m unsure of how many people gather around to watch our event, probably 200 or more,” said McCowan.

Funds Raised Through Driver Fees and Sponsorships

“The first year we charged $7,500 to participate. Now it is $10,000 per driver in the race. What they get – they get to drive the go-cart, a personalized racing helmet, a photo with a celebrity driver, a catered lunch for them and their guests (up to 4) and a table of ten at the Canary Foundation Cabana gala later that night. It is one day on their calendar and only one day for them to put aside – the go-cart race and then later that night the gala,” said McCowan.

Changes Made Over The Years Make The Event More Successful

The Canary Foundation has made some changes over the years to this event. “These guys are so competitive, and I do mean both the men and the women. We had to make sure they were clear what actions would result in black flagging. You get a black flag if you do something dangerous out on the course. We had to get a little more specific in our rules about what constitutes a black flag because they really want to beat the celebrities, especially the professional race car drivers,” said McCowan.

Interested in Running a Go-Kart Event? Consider These Suggestions!

If your charity or organization would like to do a go-kart event, McCowan has suggestions. “I would say look carefully at the demographics of where you want to hold this event as well as establishing your organizational goals for the event. Then use those as guideposts for designing the event,” said McCowan Logistics are also critical, especially when dealing with high-level people who typically work unusually long hours and won’t take kindly to your wasting their time. “I would say that if you want to do an event like this, that is looking to engage celebrities and CEOs, make sure your communication and execution plan ensure the participants won’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out when, where and what they are supposed to be doing at any given moment. In other words you want to make sure their assistant has every piece of information to get the celebrity or CEO there with what they need. If you’re not working with their assistant, but working with them directly, always copy the assistant or e-mail the assistant with information regarding logistics,” said McCowan.

A go-kart event can be lots of fun, and certainly something that will be very popular with competitive individuals. Having celebrities or high-level executives involved can be a tremendous benefit. Go-karts will appeal to many people and this type of event can be done every year with some organization and some planning. Off to the races!

Posted on 01 October 2007

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