What kid doesn’t love a snow day? Of course it’s a day off school, but, more importantly, waking up to a world that has been transformed by a fresh layer of snow adds a bit of magic and wonder to a child’s life.
On January 12 of this year, the city of Seattle was treated to an epic, fun-filled Snow Day. But this event was specifically designed for adults.
It started with a snow fort and castle-building competition, which later became the setting for the the world’s largest snowball fight. 6,000 people joined in, and a new Guinness world record was set. The day ended with a pub crawl that allowed community members to warm up, as well as make new friends.
The event was the brainchild of Neil Bergquist, who managed to pull of the impressive feat while also serving as the Director of SURF Incubator, a community-supported network of digital startups. Neil relied on his own entrepreneurial skills, and the support of his network of friends and contacts, to turn Snow Day into a reality.
“I wanted to do something disruptive. Snow Day was an opportunity for the city to come together and showcase everything we love about the Northwest,” he says.
The event was a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County. In addition to raising an impressive $50,000, it also helped participants connect with the youth organization’s mission to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.
Why you might like to try this
- Creates a meaningful experience, while raising money. “Our mission was to raise money for kids by helping people remember what it’s like to be one,” Neil says. Snow Day went beyond the traditional charity auction or dinner, and provided a memorable, shared experience for Seattleites.
- Shines a spotlight on the beneficiary’s work and mission. There’s no doubt the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County got more than money out of the event. Neil is proud of the fact that the event garnered global media attention, and created positive buzz for the nonprofit. It helped bring attention to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ other fundraising efforts, as well as generated fresh interest amongst potential volunteers. As Neil says, “The publicity they received was hard to put a dollar value on.”
- Prioritizes fun and community. Neil recognizes the powerful community-building effect of something as iconic as a snow day. “Snow days are a time where the world shuts down. The stresses of our daily life come to a close, and people just focus on the here and now. And on each other.”
How you can replicate it
While Seattle’s Snow Day was the first of its kind, Neil says he can imagine similar events happening all over the world. He says the spirit of Snow Day is something everyone can relate to, and provides a healthy way to bring communities together.
If you’d like to bring a Snow Day to your community, consider these lessons from Neil and his team. Remember that Neil started this without any official institutional backing. He does have entrepreneurial skills, a pretty high risk tolerance, and a great network of supporters, but he says there’s no reason others can’t achieve the same kind of success.
- Think big. A Snow Day that attracted 100 people wouldn’t have made nearly the impact that this 6,000-person exercise in “managed chaos” (Neil’s words) had. When the team realized they had the potential to break a world record, they knew they had to pull out all the stops.
- Get your ducks in a row. Neil refers to the date and the venue as the “anchor pieces,” around which everything else needs to work, so deal with those first. He recommends securing an iconic venue, like the Seattle Center, as a backdrop. For a risky endeavour like Snow Day, you need to make sure you’re properly insured. Do your research. As Neil says, “You don’t just call up Allstate and say, ‘Hey, we’re having the world’s largest snowball fight.’”
- Make your own high-quality snow. Neil says if he organizes another Snow Day, he won’t bring in 160,000 pounds of snow in 34 dump trucks like he did this year. Instead, he’d investigate the several ways to create snow on site.
- Do your homework. Neil and his team are now experts on snow. They read studies on the dangers of snowball fights (they made sure goggles were available at the event after learning that eye lacerations are the number one cause of injuries during snowball fights). They conducted snow-quality tests in the Cascade mountains, and did scenario planning (how would various weather conditions affect the event?). They took the details seriously.
- Leverage every resource you can. Neil relied on the time and skills of his committed team of friends. He made use of personal connections to convince 36 corporate sponsors to get on board with an unprecedented, and, frankly, rather risky, endeavor. The team used their personal networks to blow up social media, eventually selling out the event a week in advance. They got a radio partner on board, and benefited from the free promotion. Neil believes creating mutually beneficial relationships was the key to getting the promotion he needed.
- Build a strong brand. Neil managed to get the “Snow.co” domain and the @SnowDay twitter handle, which he says added to the legitimacy of the event from the get go.
- Be prepared for a lot of work. Everyone on Neil’s team had a full-time job, in addition to their Snow Day responsibilities. Neil reports, “There was a team of six of us that were working all the time. I probably put in 80 hours per week for the five or six weeks leading up to the event. I loved the idea, and I wanted to make it happen.”
A month before the event, with 4,000 tickets sold, the Snow Day team still didn’t know how they were going to transport the 160,000 pounds of snow needed.
“The difficult part is maintaining the confidence that you’re going to find a way,” Neil finally says. “If you have a vision, you’re going to give everything it takes to deliver on that vision, even though you don’t always have all the answers.”
Want to plan a Snow Day in your own community? Reach out to Neil Bergquist for information and advice: firstname.lastname@example.org.