Our How to guide on developing and promoting virtual fundraising events
Virtual fundraising events aren’t new, many charities have been operating some form of virtual event for years with great success, however in light of social distancing and stay at home measures during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic they are going to see a huge upsurge in interest.
Many charities have had great success with scheduled sporting challenge events and these have become a mainstay of voluntary sector income over recent years with strong year on year growth. All of that has stopped almost overnight and it is one of the areas that has left charities wondering how to fill the gap left by this crucial source of funding.
One option is to review your overall fundraising strategy and focus on alternative funding strands, another option is to revise your offer and create engaging virtual fundraising events that anyone can participate in independently and at a time they choose to do so. The good news is virtual events are already a proven and effective area of fundraising.
We have developed the following guide to help charities finding themselves in need of quickly reconfiguring their offer away from traditional scheduled sporting challenge and social fundraising events.
1. Review what Virtual Fundraising Events other charities are already offering
Do your research on what virtual events other charities have established and search out innovative examples that could be of interest to your existing supporters as well as those that will attract new supporters. Here are some examples to start you off:
- St Barnabas Hospice, Lincolnshire – daily 10 minute virtual workouts with Mr Motivator for two weeks for suggested donation / fundraising of £2 per session equating to £28 – an hour and a half support for a patient at home.
- British Heart Foundation’s MyMarathon enables supporters to sign up to do 26.2 miles at their own pace, in their own time and in a safe environment.
- BF The Soldier’s Charity established their 100km Virtual Frontline Walk in October 2019. Participants can use fitbit or strava to track progress and register online to create their own personal fundraising page.
- Brain Tumour Research’s Wear-A-Hat day put’s a new twist on donating to wear novelty clothing – they don’t even let not having a hat act as a barrier as they encourage people to wear a virtual one through using stickers/ GIFs. The event has been running since 2010 and in 2019 it raised over £330,000. Participants are encouraged to share images on social media, with #WearAHatDay trending on twitter. A variety of celebrity supporters participate and help to spread the message through their large social media followings.
- Beat Eating Disorders have created an open call for action asking supporters to undertake one of four virtual event types: virtual run, virtual quiz, virtual crafts and virtual yoga. They then offer a simple three step guide to enable supporters to setup a justgiving page, setup a tracking app and register their event with Beat.
2. Check the technology options and requirements for your virtual events
You will probably want individuals to register so you can communicate with them and track their progress. You may also want to send out branded t-shirts, running or cycling vests. If you haven’t previously had online event registration setup then first check with your fundraising CRM provider to see if this functionality is built in or available as an add-on. That’s probably your best option if available and should enable automatic synchronisation to your CRM.
If your CRM doesn’t offer this, ask your provider about integrations with third party suppliers. Otherwise take a look at third party registration providers such as charity checkout and ask them about how they can integrate with your existing tools.
For sponsored challenges the obvious option is Justgiving. It’s the most used fundraising platform for sponsored challenges in the UK and integrates with most CRM’s. Participants can easily setup their own fundraising page and promote it to their friends, family and colleagues via whatsapp, social media and email. You may also want to consider or already use a different platform such as Virgin Money Giving.
Activity Tracking / Engagement Apps
For any events involving physical activity, there are a huge range of fitness / activity tracking apps which use GPS and link to smartphones, smart watches or other tracking devices. Many also include team or wider social sharing. Key options include:
- Strava (now also integrates with Justgiving)
- Peloton – live and on demand workouts and cycling (cycling requires dedicated equipment)
- Zwift – virtual indoor running and cycling including team based events (requires treadmill or turbo-trainer)
Integrated virtual event fundraising apps
If you are looking for an integrated package then you might want to consider everydayhero – an integrated registration, fundraising and activity tracking package offered by Blackbaud
Good communications are essential to foster team camaraderie and the social engagement that many people are craving at the moment. Simple options include creating a private facebook group or whatsapp. This can be used by participants to share training tips, progress and encouragement for sponsored challenges. It can also provide a general social forum as part of other event types. For video chat Zoom and Houseparty are the current go to options. Tools like Strava also have social engagement built in, so think about what will work best for different fundraising events and what your supporters will feel most comfortable with.
3. Consider what types of events you will offer
Are you going to offer specific scheduled events or leave it open for your supporters to decide what and when to take on? Let’s consider the benefits of each approach:
Specific scheduled events have a number of benefits:
- Creates more of a buzz and social engagement which can increase participation and satisfaction
- Lower barrier to engagement (participants can just say yes, with no need to plan any of the details themselves)
- Harnesses a sense of community through engaging teams or even mass participation
- Gives scope for stronger brand building (see Brain Tumour Research’s Wear-A-Hat day for example)
Open dates & event types also have lots of benefits:
- People can pick a time and approach to suit them
- Enables complete flexibility on the challenge / activity
- Allows people to put their own personal stamp on it
- Potentially gives people more time to raise sponsorship in advance
So which of these options should you be offering to your supporters? Both of course! Combining the easy engagement and buzz that can be created around specific scheduled events, with the flexibility of open events can give your charity and supporters the best of both worlds.
4. Develop your Fundraising Event options
Now you need to consider what specific events you want to offer. These broadly fit into two categories:
Social Fundraising Events
Right now most of us need an antidote to social isolation, so social events are likely to be popular. Ideas could include:
- Virtual Quizzes – these can either be self organised or using an existing tool like virtual quiz events. Quizzes are a great way to bring supporters together for a social and fun activity. Participants can be charged a modest fee. Facebook Live is a useful tool for broadcasting the questions and a private facebook group can be used for social messaging during the event across all participants.
- Virtual Bake-Off – ok so it will be difficult to judge on taste but why not get all your supporters involved in creating their own showstoppers! Or maybe have a colour or other theme that links to your cause and brand. Set up a dedicated hash tag and encourage social sharing. Ask for an entrance fee and offer prizes or just request donations from all participants.
- Dress up / Dress Down / Wear a hat / wear pink day – These are easy and fun social challenges that can get good traction on social media with a dedicated hashtag. They work well when linked to awareness raising campaigns including official awareness days / weeks. Invite donations from all participants with a suggested nominal amount or just leave it to participants to decide what they want to give. Ask participants to share your donation link.
- Virtual Picnic / Coffee Morning – another option for engaging large numbers of supporters individually whilst fostering a sense of community. Encouraging social sharing can help raise awareness of your cause. Ensure participants are clear that any event must align with guidance on stay at home / social distancing measures.
- Social Challenges – the original here was MND’s Ice bucket challenge. In the UK it raised over £7 Million. There are many other examples of very successful social and personal challenges – Movember (Prostate Cancer UK), Stoptober (British Lung Foundation), Dryathlon (CRUK), Brave the Shave (Macmillan) to name a few that have seen viral success and raised £ Millions. You don’t need to be a top 100 charity to succeed in this space though, you just need to have an innovative idea that can capture the imagination and enthusiasm of your supporters and hopefully also the wider public.
Sporting Challenge Events
Exercise is as important as ever under the Covid-19 stay at home order from the Government. Without the usual ambulation of daily life, people are looking to make the most of their daily exercise. Whilst it’s important to follow Government guidance, this still allows lots of ways for people to undertake physical and sporting challenges.
- Running – You’ve probably heard of the Italian who ran a marathon on his 7 metre balcony and several examples of people running marathons in the UK by doing laps around their back garden. There’s even someone who scaled the height of Everest on his staircase! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it shows that endurance challenges are still an option. Participants taking extreme approaches like these can raise enormous awareness and funding for your cause. Alternatively how about a 30 day challenge, running 1, 2 or 3 miles a day, or trying to achieve a specific overall target within 30 days.
- Cycling – another sport that is still accessible, cycling events are hugely popular but like running, how about a 30 day challenge with an overall target. Many keen cyclists also own turbo trainers, enabling them to participate in virtual events broadcast on a screen and compete individually or as a team live against other riders through apps like Zwift.
- Walking – a walking option is great for the less sporty or those that want to participate as a family. Adding a fancy dress or colour based theme can help increase social sharing and drive increased donation levels.
- Virtual Workouts – Mass participation events are still entirely feasible from home. We’ve seen the popularity of P.E with Joe. With the right twist live virtual exercise can be a really popular option. See the St Barnabas Hospice example above.
Most charities won’t be able to offer all of these options. The aim is to develop a balanced portfolio of opportunities that maximise engagement and return. Remember that less is often more – one event done really well may achieve more success than spreading your efforts thinly across too many activities.
5. Promote your Fundraising Events
The first priority is effective communication with participants of existing scheduled events that may have been cancelled or postponed. Do they want to consider doing the same challenge in a different way? Make sure they understand how important their support is to your charity and the impact that cancelled events could have on your charitable activities.
If it is your own event that faces cancellation can you pivot to something different? YMCA Sutton Coldfield were facing the cancellation of a major sleep out fundraiser. Instead of cancelling they quickly revised the event to a ‘sofa surf’. A quick and creative solution with a very low barrier to participation that also manages to convey the message that homelessness isn’t just about rough sleepers.
Children with Cancer UK had nearly 1,400 runners signed up for the London Marathon. Whilst the event is expected to still take place in October, it is still uncertain and so they have developed their ‘Together As One Run’ which sees them promoting an alternative of a one hour run with everyone starting at 9:30am on the original scheduled date of the London Marathon – 26th April. By offering something similar on the same date, they are hoping to maximise retention of existing registrants, whilst enabling them to comply with Government guidance.
Promoting your new virtual fundraising events effectively to supporters will be crucial to achieving success. Make sure you understand participants motivations for engagement. Some might be cause led, others will be led by the nature of the event offered and this will differ by event. Your marketing and promotion needs to reflect those motivations.
Getting the message out starts with your existing supporters. Email and social media are the easiest and cheapest channels to start with. Make sure your messaging is compelling with a strong call to action and ensure that signup is simple and frictionless.
Finally make sure your supporters are aware of and comply with government guidance on stay at home / social distancing and crucially keep themselves and others safe.
Virtual fundraising events offer a great opportunity to mitigate the impact of losses from cancelled event income. They also provide a positive way to offer increased innovation and flexibility. Virtual events offer the opportunity to engage new and younger supporters as well as engage those with different abilities and interests. They are scalable, low cost and low risk. So what are you waiting for? Get planning and get your virtual event portfolio up and running!
We hope you found this guide helpful. Feel free to share or give us a shout out on social media, or get in touch if you need any support.