Fundraising during a global pandemic

For Giveback XP, a new focus on safe, local experiences

With the disruptions to “normal” life brought on by COVID-19, these last months have been a tumultuous time for many organizations. 

“There’s no manual for a global pandemic,” Scott Ruprecht points out.

Because Ruprecht’s business model relies on selling travel at events – two facets of life greatly affected – the impact was particularly high. 

Giveback XP team members Scott Ruprecht, Traci Kirkpatrick, Krista Kuhlman and tour operator Eddie Fieldhouse on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

But Ruprecht and his team of four at Mount Adams-based Giveback XP (previously Giveback Sports) have met the challenge, using it as an opportunity to innovate. They’ve launched a new division, Hometown Experiences, to bolster their revenue and that of their partners in the travel and nonprofit realm. 

A lifelong entrepreneur who started a fly fishing travel company at 27, Ruprecht founded Giveback Sports in 2016. The company creates custom travel packages that nonprofits auction off during fundraising events. 

Packages are offered at no risk: If one doesn’t sell, the nonprofit doesn’t pay. When a package does sell, the nonprofit pays Giveback XP its reserve price and keeps anything over that amount. Trips can be sold multiple times. 

Ruprecht and his team help nonprofits decide which packages to offer and eliminate the time and hassles that would otherwise be associated with auctioning off trip packages. 

The view from one of Giveback XP’s cabins in the Red River Gorge

“You have to take the time to develop the relationships and create the experiences, but then you have to execute them flawlessly for donors,” he said. “If they don’t have a good trip, they‘re not buying something again at the next event.” 

The model has been successful: Ruprecht said Giveback XP hit seven figures in sales in 2019. It was set to sell packages at triple the events in the first quarter of 2020 as during the same period last year, he said.

Then came March, which brought pandemic-related travel restrictions and event postponements/cancellations. 

Ruprecht and his team needed to replace the revenue they expected to earn at postponed or cancelled events. They also wanted to help their partners in the travel industry, such as hotels and tour companies, and the nonprofits that still need to fundraise, he said.

Many of Giveback XP’s packages to places like Napa Valley and Wyoming are still selling at virtual events – they’ve increased the redemption period from one to two years to help drive sales. But Ruprecht recognized some people want to stick closer to home for social distancing reasons or because of time or financial restraints. 

All those factors drove the creation of Hometown Experiences (powered by Giveback XP), offering local or regional trips Ruprecht hopes will appeal to Greater Cincinnatians. 

While nonprofits can sell the experiences at events, individuals can also purchase them via the division’s standalone website. That helps travel companies get the “sustainable, repeatable business” they need, Ruprecht said.

For example, Giveback XP already offers three Kentucky Bourbon Trail packages. With Hometown Experiences, they’ll at least double that number and add day trip options.

Some Hometown Experiences won’t involve travel at all. 

“Maybe there’s a group that doesn’t want to go out right now, but we can bring a private chef to their house to cook for 10 people,” he said.

Participants in the Maize OTR Hands-On Culinary Experience

Ruprecht expects to offer nearly 40 Hometown Experiences. Some, like a Kentucky Derby package, will be limited quantity. 

This isn’t the first time Ruprecht has had to adjust focus. 

He originally envisioned Giveback Sports (recently rebranded to Giveback XP to emphasize that it’s an eXPerience company) as a ticket seller. For every ticket sold, the company would donate some of the profits to sending underserved youth to sporting events. 

When that didn’t get traction, he pivoted to the current, successful iteration. Similarly, Hometown Experiences is already showing promise. 

Matt Hughes is executive director of Envision Children, which helps underserved kids get supplemental educational instruction.

Both of the organization’s major annual fundraisers have auctions. The one during its April Lighting the Way event previously raised $7,000; in 2018 and 2019, that same event’s auction raised $28,000 and $31,000, respectively. Working with Giveback XP has been a significant factor in that increase, Hughes said. 

This year, the event went virtual. Although they’d had past success auctioning trips to Tuscany, Las Vegas and Napa Valley, they wanted options closer to home this year. So Giveback XP put together two bourbon experiences, both of which sold. The auction netted $28,000.

“We have found that (working with Giveback XP) is absolutely worth it,” he said. “Financially, it’s benefited us greatly. 

“Scott is invested in how to make our event successful. I think he gets what nonprofits are trying to do.”

Matt Hughes, executive director of Envision Children

“Scott is invested in how to make our event successful,” Hughes added. “I think he gets what nonprofits are trying to do.”

Maybe that’s because Ruprecht started Giveback XP with what he calls a “profit + purpose” model.

“When we launched the business, we said … ‘how can we tie giving into business, not as a separate add-on?’ How can make it a part of our DNA right from the beginning?’” he said. 

Although the company deviated from its ticket-selling origins, it still sends underserved youth to sporting events. He estimates they’ve given out some 1,000 tickets.

Sports played a big role in Ruprecht’s own life: Some of his best friends are former teammates. Growing up on Cincinnati’s West Side, playing baseball and tennis taught him some of life’s important lessons. 

“You learned to be a winner; you learned how to deal with losing. You learned to work with a team; you learned about streaks good and bad; you worked with authority,” he said.

While he can’t currently send kids to sporting events, he’s exploring other ways to give back. Giveback XP recently bought new baseball and softball uniforms for students at an underserved high school in Florida – and had NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp deliver them.

Ruprecht said having a purpose aspect inspires him and his team – and makes a great selling point.

“We win a lot of business that way,” he said. 

Still, the biggest impact is helping nonprofits raise more money, he said.

“They’re the real difference makers,” he said. “We’re helping them with additional funds to do whatever they need to do. That’s highly rewarding.”

Thanks to Giveback XP for helping make this content possible.

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