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Insights on climbing and fundraising strategies from veteran mountaineer John Prillaman

May 4, 2013

Long-time mountaineer and Fred Hutch advocate John Prillaman talks about why he returns to the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer year after year. He also reveals his best advice about effective fundraising and how his own personal loss due to breast cancer brought him purpose and passion.

Interviewer: So how did you find the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer? How long ago was that and how did you get involved?

John: I live in North Carolina, and I started climbing 12 years ago with a good friend of mine from Washington. He pretty much came out every year to climb with me. When I was in Washington state in 2005, I saw on TV that some folks were climbing Mt. Adams to help fund breast cancer research.

I was really intrigued by that. climbing mt adams So I kind of bookmarked that in the back of my mind, and the following year when I was trying to make some climbing plans, I just did a search on the internet for it, and came up with the Fred Hutch climb.

I saw that climbing Mount Rainier was one of the offerings. I’d climbed Rainier in 2000. That was what got me started in mountaineering. So I decided to sign up.

Mountain Climbing On Purpose

Interviewer: So you’ve been a mountain climber for a long time, but then you came across this organization, and you thought, “Hey, I like climbing mountains and this is a great cause. Why not join the campaign to save lives?”

John: Exactly. I was able to do something that I love for a cause that I’m very passionate about. Breast cancer has struck a number of folks in my family, and to be able to help the cause and help find a cure is a huge opportunity.

Interviewer: Would you please talk about just your experience with the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer organization?

John: This is a phenomenal organization. My contact Lisa has been incredibly supportive over the years. When I first got started with this, especially being on the other coast where nobody had heard of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, I was a little concerned about getting involved. She provided me with all sorts of resources to the perks of fundraising.

Savvy Fundraising Strategies

John: The first year, I went out and beat the goal considerably. I was pretty pumped up about that. And the folks with the climb have been incredibly supportive. There’s always a lead person that we have email access to and telephone access. So if there’s ever any question, they’ll get a quick answer for us. They help with fundraising, or the climb itself or gear. You name it.

Interviewer: It sounds like you do your own fundraising for the climb. What are some of the fundraising techniques that you use when you’re going into your own social circles and your own community to do promotion?

John: I’ve tried Facebook. That hasn’t been as successful the last couple of years. I’d gone to a high school reunion three years ago, and there was a lot of interest from a lot of my classmates who are on Facebook. I got a lot of contributions that way. It hasn’t been quite so successful since then. I do email blasts. I also mail physical flyers with self-addressed envelopes, which makes it real simple for people to just send a check. A lot of people appreciate that I make it easy for them.

Interviewer: Do you send those out to your friends and people you meet through work?

John: Friends, family, past contributors, and a lot of folks that have contributed every year.

Tips for First-Timers

Interviewer: So tell me about mountain climbing. If you were speaking to a new climber that’s just coming to Mt. Hood for the first time,  what would information would you want to share with them?

John: Well, when I climbed Mt. Hood ten years ago, I was climbing with one friend of mine who was also experienced, and two novices who had never climbed before. It was just the four of us on our own. We slept in a tent up above the top of the Palmer, where the ski lift is. We got a bright and early start.

The only really technical section to climb is an area called the Pearly Gates, and there the summit is a little dicey. For a first-time climber, I would suggest doing it with the guide service for safety reasons. Two of us had climbed enough before that we felt comfortable bringing two novices on the mountain. But I wouldn’t recommend somebody without any kind of background attempting it on their own.

Interviewer: Yeah. That makes sense.

John: Portland Parks and Recreation, they’ve got great guides. Any gear that people don’t have, they’re able to rent locally, so you don’t have to go out and invest in all the gear to test out the waters. But I would encourage anybody that has an interest in the mountains, hiking or just being outdoors, to give it a try. Get a hold of the guide service and see what you think. If you love it, pursue it. If you don’t, hey, you gave it a try and it was a new experience for you.

The Right Mountain Climbing Equipment

Interviewer: If this is my first time climbing, what kind of equipment should I be using? What preferred brands are you using?

John: Most of my gear is made by Mountain Hardwear. I’ve been using their gear for 15 years because they’re very well-engineered products, and high quality construction. The pack I’m carrying, most of my fleece gear, my vortex shell, it’s all Mountain Hardwear.

It All Matters

Interviewer: A lot of this is support that comes from the community; people who might donate to a climber at a small amount, maybe just $10 or $20. How important are their donations to you?

John: They’re huge. Getting the people involved at the grassroots level, that’s what this is all about. It’s getting those individuals, family, friends, coworkers, and clients that make all the difference.  As a matter of fact, over the years my clients have contributed at least 50% of what I’ve raised. Because they believe in me, they believe in what I’m doing.

Just get the word out there and ask people. And understand that some people are going  to say they’ll donate but they never do. Don’t get too discouraged. But do let people know that every single donation helps no matter the size. It all makes a difference to the valuable research that’s going on at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Interviewer: Do you have a tie to cancer? Is there an emotional drive in this for you?

John: There is. I lost my mother to breast cancer in 1991 and several other members of my extended family have survived breast cancer. So it’s something I feel very, very strongly about.

Interviewer: I’m sorry for your loss.

John: Thank you.

Interviewer: Thank you for all of your support over many years of participating in the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

John: I feel this is my way to really give back, and I think it’s something that my mom would be proud of. I certainly know that my family members have expressed their gratitude for my working towards the cure.

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