New Year, New Format for In-Person Peer-to-Peer Events (With Examples!)

As the calendar changed, so too did the outlook of many hopeful people, eager for the changes this year may bring. Optimism is on the rise and there is much to look forward to in the coming months ahead. As the holidays move further behind us and we get back into our daily routines, this optimism will sustain us for a potentially long winter ahead.

The anticipation of exciting events can help people persevere through trying times. The return of safely modified hybrid in-person events will give supporters and staff something positive to look forward to and prepare for. If your organizations is still working to develop and transparently communicate solid plans for this spring’s event offerings, these examples should give you some inspiration.

University Health Care Foundation – Miracle Mile Walk

The Miracle Mile Walk supports University Hospital’s Randy W. Cooper, M.D., Center for Breast Health Services and the Women’s Wellness on Wheels mobile unit, which provides life-saving screenings to women in the Augusta, GA community. This organization enthusiastically executed a hybrid-style event in the fall, transforming their Miracle Mile Walk to an optional Miracle Mile Drive on October 17, in addition to a walk on your own option at any time from October 1-17. Their reimagined event’s fundraising total of $361K+ surpassed the previous year!

Favorite features:

  • They are promoting the Drive as a “one-time only” event. By elevating the exclusive nature of the event, participants were more excited to take part and didn’t want to miss out!
  • They made it clear this event would be a safe way to show support, while still gathering with others to feel a part of something collective and bigger!
  • They made it fun by challenging participants to a car decorating contest!

Pan-Mass Challenge and Winter Cycle, benefiting the Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Dana Farber Cancer Institute fundraiser

Founded in 1980, the Pan-Mass Challenge has contributed nearly $800 million to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and since 2007, 100% of rider raised funds directly benefit cancer research and treatment. After reimagining their 2020 event, the PMC is stepping up their game in 2021 and recently announced changes to their large-scale bike-a-thon with well thought out event and route modifications for their cycling event in August. You may think time is on their side for August, but that isn’t stopping them from also staging an in-person event this month!

The PMC Winter Cycle is traditionally an indoor stationery cycling event held at the iconic Fenway Park in Boston, MA. This year, the event will be held outdoors at Fenway, with five sessions and an exclusive 50-participant limit per session. Social distancing, masking, cleaning, and other protocols are in place for the health and safety of riders and instructors. Registered riders can also elect to participate in any or all of the sessions from home.

Favorite features:

  • An extensive FAQ page to ensure that potential riders have all they need to make an informed decision on how they feel most comfortable participating.
  • Due to the exclusive nature of the event, and the demand for popular timeslots and teachers, registration was first only open to previous top fundraisers, before opening to the general public.

American Lung Association – Fight for Air Climb

Traditionally an indoor stair climbing event held in skyscrapers across the country, this year the climb is moving outside. Many events are now planned to take place at outdoor stadiums. There is also an option to “Climb Your Way” for those who are not able or would prefer not to attend in person.

Favorite features:

  • A focus on safety and great attention to detail in planning for the event. Not only will masking and social distancing be required, but the organization will control the flow of participants by assigning time slots and waves to climbers.
  • While typically monetizing a fundraising event is not recommended, the American Lung Association created a stand-alone but related fundraiser to generate additional funds for the organization. They brilliantly honored the climb’s most ardent supporters – firefighters – by creating the first Fight for Air Climb Firefighter calendar.

Common Themes and Recommendations

  • Use the outdoors to your advantage for your hybrid event
    Most P2P events already took place outside. This year organizations will use open outdoor spaces to further socially distance participants by controlling the number of people at the venue at one time. By increasing the space available, adding venues, adding time slots, allowing participants in “waves”, and more, organizations will create events people are more comfortable attending. For events that were traditionally inside, move them outdoors and follow the same guidance!

For your DIY or virtual option, remember that fundraisers appreciate much more direction and instruction than simply recommending they fundraise or participate in their own way in lieu of the event. The virtual option for those who do not feel comfortable at an in-person event should come with very specific guidelines, recommendations, and materials. Though flexibility is encouraged, many will appreciate the figurative box being drawn around their efforts.

  • Don’t ignore the pandemic or use it as a de-facto excuse for poor planning

If you are planning a modified in-person event, acknowledge the pandemic and make your plans for the event and participant safety readily apparent.

Inspired by a commenter on a recent post, this is the year to double down on planning, especially when it comes to safety procedures and contingency planning. As decisions are made, transparently provide this information to existing and potential participants so they may make an informed decision of their own.

People are looking for order and intentional planning as they decide how to spend their time. Especially for past participants, specific information about how the modified event season will look will give them added confidence in the organization’s plan. Here’s a very thorough example of a transparent safety plan from Project Hero.

  • Capitalize on the uniqueness of 2021

When the spring event season kicks into full swing, we will have about a year of pandemic-based P2P fundraising under our belts. We can do better than “virtual” – in both wording and format. In Blackbaud’s Guide to Evolving Beyond Virtual released in July, we encouraged the implementation of hybrid events and 2021 calls for dialing up the in-person component of the event in a safe way.

Though some aspects of 2020 and 2021 are here to stay, it’s clear that the 2021 peer-to-peer fundraising season will be like no other. Due to space restrictions, some events will have limited attendance. Others will have completely new and different formats. Some will have innovative features that will truly make the event exceptional.

Capitalize on that uniqueness in your recruitment messaging, on your homepage, through social media, etc. This could be by simply underscoring the “one-time only” or “exclusive” nature of the event, or by being bold and calling your event by its name, followed by “Special Edition”.