The Time Has Come to Reinvent Fall 2020 Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Events

As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded across the world, nonprofit fundraisers have been required to take one of three actions for their spring peer-to-peer fundraising (P2P) campaigns : cancel, postpone, or take it virtual. We’ve seen creativity, resilience, and resolve through it all. The paradigm for campaigns that have moved forward has been reactive to this point – taking an in-person event and making it virtual.

In undertaking a landscape review of many well-known P2P event websites, findings were consistent with that paradigm across spring events. However, fall event websites told a much different story. Fall event websites seem untouched by the pandemic. By and large, they are not being cancelled, postponed, or virtualized. Most fall events fit into one or more of the following categories with relation to the current pandemic:

  • No mention of it at all.
  • Information about the organization’s response, and/or the status of the event is difficult to find.
  • Information is ambiguous and vague.
  • Indicating the event would move forward if permitted.
  • Indicating the event is moving forward as planned.

All this falls very flat with visitors and will, in fact, leave them feeling quite uncomfortable. When asked about this, Katrina Van Huss from Turnkey said, “Nothing is business as usual right now. To hit a website and see business as usual is disconcerting. It says to the visitor ‘You don’t understand me. You don’t know what I’m going through. This institution is divorced from my current reality.” This not only leads to uncertainty, but to greatly decreased registration conversion rates. To ensure we are meeting people where they are, the paradigm must shift.

Spring 2020 Event Paradigm: In-Person → Virtual

Peer-to-peer organizations have taken meticulously planned in-person events and worked to create virtual experiences to bring their communities together. As the season has continued, some organizations still waited to make decisions on whether to hold their events, while others made quicker decisions and had more time to develop online events.

Fall 2020 Event (and likely beyond) Paradigm: Virtual → In-Person

Moving into the fall, we have more time to prepare. Despite that, many organizations are still taking the wait-and-see approach, and they will ultimately be left behind. Organizations that will be successful (though success will certainly look different), are those who realize they must pivot and start planning for it. Organizations should assume their events will not move forward “as planned” and instead they should take a virtual-first approach.

“Going virtual” entails much more than simply livestreaming some events on event day, it’s a complete change in strategy and an intense amplification of virtual connection with participants throughout event season. It also calls for socially distanced activities the community can participate in on their own terms.

The community we reinvigorate today will be the foundation of our events tomorrow.

What we have and are experiencing  has been challenging. We know now that the impacts of this pandemic, both positive and negative, will be felt for years and decades to come. Ultimately the campaigns that adapt their events to fit this new paradigm and continue to implement these new strategies in the future are going to be the ones who thrive with robust and loyal communities at their core. Finding new and creative ways to connect with our communities both online and locally (while maintaining a safe social distance) is critical.

Three Reinvented Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaigns

AIDS/LifeCycle launches AIDS/LifeCycle @ Home and the My545 ChallengeAIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported, seven day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, co-produced by and benefiting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. In place of the annual ride, the organizations will be orchestrating a week of virtual programming, challenges, and community for their supporters. Leading up to it, they’ve invited participants to take the My545 Challenge, a choose your own challenge to support their fundraising efforts. They can commit to 545 miles, minutes, or any other measurable metric, and their participants are really embracing it! Taking 545 steps in heels, making and donating 545 masks, and committing 545 acts of kindness stood out among other impressive physical challenges.

My favorite features:

  • Their events calendar. With nearly 50 virtual happenings on their calendar during the month of April alone, they make social distancing and community building look easy!
  • Virtual suggestion box. Found on their homepage, they welcome and encourage ideas from the community to help improve this new-to-everyone experience.
  • The Chicago Walk to Defeat ALS is “Coming to a Neighborhood Near You” – According to the website, “this year we are giving everyone the tools to host their own Walk to Defeat ALS from home to fit their teams’ needs, health directives, and abilities. It is our goal to have 150 mini-events hosted on June 6th throughout Chicagoland.” The event already had a superhero theme, and they put that to work to help infuse additional excitement into this reimagined campaign. Each team captain receives a superhero supply box with everything they need to make their mini-event memorable, including ingenious door hangers to inform neighbors of what’s happening, encourage donations, and give them a chance to come outside and cheer walkers on.

My favorite features:

  • Their authenticity – Kendra Albers and Samantha Courter have assembled something wonderful in a very short period of time in a way that’s savvy, yet relatable. They are obviously ready to help at a moments notice. Their videos are fun and informative, and the social media materials they’ve put together will inspire many to get their networks involved.
  • Their incentives – A socially distant superhero appearance at my walk and a post-event catered dessert station? Yes, please!
  • The Ride for Roswell transforms into Summer of the Ride – Originally planned for June 27, this ride weekend with 10 route options was expecting 8,000 participants to raise $6M for the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY. On May 1, they announced a new campaign called the Summer of the Ride, which will officially kick off on June 27 with a torch lighting, carrying through July with a celebration of why they ride, and culminating in August with one of two ride options. They will be offering six small weekend rides, which will follow all current protocol including physical distancing and face masks, with groups of ten riders or less starting every twenty minutes. There will also be a “ride your own way” option to create the perfect ride day experience for each individual rider. Based on the reactions to their Facebook post announcing the changes, their community is loving it! The organization also reports that more participants have registered in the few days since the announcement was made than during the entire month of April, a testament to how important acknowledging the situation and pivoting the campaign truly is.

My favorite features:

  • Their setting of the bar – THIS is what reinventing your event for today’s challenging times looks like. Many more details are still to come, which will include new and innovative ways to engage and honor their communities in appropriate ways.
  • Getting into the community – Staff and volunteers have come together to personally deliver yard signs to participants who have raised $50. Volunteers have truly enjoyed getting out of the house and brightening someone else’s day. Participants have been spotted taking selfies with their yard signs!

Andrea Gregory, Director of Event Fundraising for the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation reports being inspired by a quote from Jean Brown, Executive Director of the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, which puts on The Prouty amongst other P2P events. She said, “Make the decision and start working on it. You’ll sleep better at night.”

For fall P2P events, the time to make a decision to reinvent your campaign is now! Do you have other examples of events that have pivoted in innovative ways? Please send them our way!