Steps for Students

New Backend Technology and Virtual Fundraising Event Debrief

Case Study Key Topics:

  • Fundraiser, team fundraising success
  • Integrated technology
  • Timer going the extra mile
  • RunSignup’s data integration
  • Creative virtual approach, success during Covid-19
  • Virtual race considerations

Race Organizers Interviewed:

Julie Eberle, Associate Director of Development – Special Events, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Suraiya CulpThe Devil’s In the Details Events

Richard LittrellDoMore Race Services

2021 Steps for Students, Galveston-Houston, Texas


As our country continues to carry on in the midst of Covid-19 challenges, we see many examples of people coming together and a willingness to embrace alternative experiences. This year Steps for Students successfully produced a very different version of its typical 10,000-person annual fundraising event to support the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Unable to host an on-site event, Steps for Students switched to a creative virtual format and had an impressive 6,500 registrants, raised more than $775,000, and created positive community engagement. Julie Eberle and Suraiya Culp, event organizers for Steps for Students shared with us their innovative approach to offering a virtual experience that reinforced their fundraising efforts.

However, even before the challenges of Covid-19, Steps for Students determined their backend technology needed to change to supported their unique needs around team fundraising and seamless data integration. Ultimately, they chose to switch to RunSignup’s registration, fundraising, and race day technology platform.  Steps for Student’s timer, Richard Littrell the owner of DoMore Race Services, provided some background on the changes implemented from a technology perspective and shared how his role for the event expanded.

->Jump to Steps for Students 2021 Virtual Approach

Some Key Takeaways:

  • Include timer in event debrief session.
  • Explore other ways your timer can help – they can share best practices.
  • RunSignup has powerful fundraising tools.
  • Integrated technology reduces participant problem solving and creates efficiencies.
  • When producing a virtual event, create a sense of community.
  • Having a united cause naturally motivates participation.
  • Consider the virtual new factors of shipping and delays with production.
  • Be creative and provide ways to engage with your event and each other.

Technology Behind Steps for Students

Need for Real-Time Data Integration & Reporting

During their 2020 debrief Steps for Students’ event organizers realized their current technology and registration was not fully addressing their unique needs to have accurate and full integration of registration, fundraising, and event day data. Specifically, the technology requirements included:

  • Need for accessible real-time accurate views of team fundraising efforts.
  • Ability to enter dynamic bibs and synchronize bib data.
  • Real-time synchronization between all data inputs; registration, fundraising, bib assignments, and results.
  • Race day online registration.

This first requirement was essential for Steps for Students as each school was set up as a team with their own fundraising goals. Each school implemented various incentives to promote their fundraising goals. However, sometimes the fundraising amounts were not being reported accurately and there were delays with reporting of fundraising dollars. Since fundraising is the core of Steps for Students, having a system that could accurately track and easily report dollars raised was a mandatory requirement. 

In addition, there were components that were being manually managed like event day registration and there was a challenge with changes not automatically adjusting across the various interfaces. This ended up leading to inefficiencies, and the need for troubleshooting and support services. 

The Solution

During Steps For Students 2020 debrief session, their timer, Richard Littrell, suggested they look at RunSignup’s registration and fundraising platform. Richard is a RunSignup Certified Timer who knew its potential to solve the current issues and improve the overall experience.  After walking through a RunSignup capabilities demonstration and exploring the more specific requirements, event organizers decided to switch their registration services to RunSignup. Both Julie and Richard shared that the transition to RunSignup solved their technology challenges and delivered an efficient, flexible virtual experience.

“The data was 100% up to date, real-time, and the event organizers could accurately see where donations were coming from. Team captains also had more accessible information. In addition, the flow of the registration process went very smoothly with automatic assignment of teams and there was in increased ease in which people could make donations correctly.”

Richard Littrell

Richard also reported that all of the registration and fundraising reporting technology from RunSignup along with the data integration across the RaceDay technology such as bib assignments and results led to a significant reduction in support required to resolve previous issues. 

“RunSignup gave us the much needed ability to have an accurate view of fundraising status of each campus and for the team captains to be able to assess the status on reaching their goals. We were pleasantly surprised with how seamless things worked.” 

Julie Eberle

When a Timer Isn’t Just a Timer

Since timers typically serve many events, they are in a unique position to provide guidance and suggestions on ways to overcome challenges an event faces. Given that this year’s Steps for Students could not be hosted on-site, Richard’s role shifted to provide a virtual race experience and support of the technology on the backend. The services he provided included:

·      Registration setup and maintenance

·      Customer services support for participants and others

·      RaceJoy participant tracking setup and maintenance

·      Virtual Results setup and management

“Richard is a valuable partner to us and definitely helped us to improve things on multiple levels. He understands the technology and I look to him to provide his input and I’m looking forward to continuing working with him and RunSignup for our 2022 on-site event.”

Julie Eberle

We asked Richard if there was anything he wanted to share:

“I know with RunSignup I’m using the best and offering the best technology to my events. I’m not obligated to use their products and can easily use whatever my events prefer, but it is great when I’m able to help a race innovate and solve problems through the technology I can bring to the table. RunSignup steps up with its technology to solve the problems race directors and participants want and need.”

Richard Littrell

Steps for Students 2021 Virtual Approach

Steps for Students, an annual fundraising event benefiting 56 Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. This year Steps for Students celebrated its 16th year and despite facing the challenges of a pandemic and an historic Texas freeze, Steps for Students raised an impressive $775,000 for the archdiocese with 6,500 registrants for its virtual 5K. Though these numbers are down some from last year’s raise of $980,000, this is still a very remarkable achievement given the surrounding challenges. This success can be attributed to the ingenuity of event organizers and school faculty and the engagement of students, family, and local communities. 

Each school is set up as a team with individual fundraising goals. The typical 5K is open for anyone to complete (students, parents, faculty, community members, etc.). All funds raised by a school is then given to that school to support things like campus renovations and student scholarships. The schools apply motivational creativity by offering rewards for meeting fundraising goals such as pizza and popcorn parties, casual dress or shoe days, and a school dance. One had the special reward of being able to slime a priest, and another priest even offered to camp out on the top of the school’s roof if they were the top fundraisers!

School Ingenuity

Julie Eberle shared that they knew early on that there was no way to hold a 10,000 person event in the middle of the pandemic. They determined that shifting the hosting of a virtual 5K to the individual school campuses would be the best approach. Each campus was able to implement their own approach and could offer an in-person or virtual activity. Some of the various activities schools supported beyond a virtual 5K included doing laps during PE class, hosting a color run, and asking students to walk a block. 

“It was so great to see the creativity and energy the campuses applied – even when they already had so much to contend with during the pandemic. Because of their efforts we were able to surpass our fundraising goals with $775,000 going into supporting the schools. We are very much looking forward to 2022’s in-person Steps For Students!”

Julie Eberle

Steps for Students created a more official race experience by giving the schools a “race in a box” that included fun items like sunglasses and wristlets. They also issued out official race bibs, official race t-shirts, and finisher medals. Those that did the virtual 5K were able to make use of the RaceJoy mobile app for real-time performance updates, participant tracking, and audio cheers from family and friends. 

When asked about how they could be so successful in the midst of a pandemic, Julie and Suraiya shared that they are in a unique position because Steps for Students is a highly community-focused fundraising effort embracing not only the students, but their family and friends and teachers and staff at the schools. It is a cause-based fundraising event versus just a fun experience. The schools also directly benefit from the fundraising and people like that they can see the results of their efforts.

There were additional motivational achievements and awards Steps for Students offered across the archdiocese that helped encourage this community engagement, such as the President’s Cup for the high school with the highest participant, the top 16 fundraisers, and the highly honored David Guite Spirit Award that recognizes the original founder of Steps For Students.

Some Words of Advice and Virtual Event Considerations

Suraiya has a great deal of experience with virtual races and has seen both ends of spectrum of success. She shared that the ones she seen be most successful are those that are connected to a cause, and that events need to be creative in the ways they engage with participants.

“Think outside of the box. Think of ways to enage participants. Keep them engaged and have them feel a part of something versus an ambiguous virtual event. People really don’t understand what this means. Give them something to do that is creative. More importantly, if you can offer a cause for them to rally behind versus just a fun experience, events will have much higher engagement and success like with Steps for Students”

Suraiya Culp

Suraiya also provided insights on the newer challenges she is seeing events are facing today:

Shipping of Swag and Production Delays

Suraiya explained that many events don’t consider what is involved with distributing the race swag – shirts, medals, bibs, etc. With in-person events, you have a centralized way to distribute things. She shared that the logistics and costs of this can be very cumbersome and an unexpected shock for those putting on virtual events.

Also, because of the pandemic, production of things like shirts and finisher medals are taking longer and events need to plan much farther in advance. She suggests organizers order ahead to ensure things get there on time.

We asked Julie if she had any final advice for other race directors who are also unable to put on their normal on-site event experience:

“Stay positive and find creative ways to keep the continuity with your event. It is important to keep things going even if it is in a different format or a lesser version of what you’ve previously done. Then you can focus on next year when you able to come back together. “

Julie Eberle

About DoMore Race Services

Richard Littrell’s DoMore Race Services is located in Texas and serves all of Texas and Southern states. With 18 associates supporting their events and Richard’s 17 years of experience, they are well positioned to support their events. Richard is an official RunSignup, RaceDay, and RaceJoy Certified Timer. 

The types of services DoMore Race Services provides includes:

·      Overall event production

·      Registration setup and maintenance

·      Timing and scoring of on-site events

·      Virtual race services and virtual results

·      RaceJoy mobile app for race day

·      Race logistics 

·      Race infrastructure (Start/Finish structures, fencing, water stops, etc.)

If you are an event organizer and would like more information from DoMore Races, please send them an email or submit your race needs here

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