Challenge event fundraising in a pandemic

Tactics for helping supporters still raise funds even if they’re stuck at home.

Clearly with people not able to meet in groups (or potentially even leave their homes) sporting events have had to be cancelled.

But how can you help your supporters (when they need your charities’ event more than ever) and help save your charities income in the short and long term?

FREE mini E-book – request your copy here:

Challenge Event Fundraising Strategies – Survive the pandemic in the short-term and grow massively in the long-term.

I recently interviewed Andy Sallnow, Head of Sporting Events at Prostate Cancer UK to find out more about how they have been handling this situation, so as to save some event income and continue to meet supporters’ needs for a sense of purpose, challenge and good health.

Andy told me that although event income is clearly going to be reduced in the coming months, if you’re proactive in how you reach out to your supporters and what you say, some people will be happy to get sponsored both to do something virtually, and to do the real event in due course.

Why is fundraising for your cause through events so relevant, especially now?

Andy pointed out that fundraising events have always helped participants meet three important human needs:

  • CHALLENGE – The need to prove yourself, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, physically
  • CONNECTION – The need to be part of a group, in a shared endeavour, with the solidarity and camaraderie that brings
  • CONTRIBUTION – The need to make a difference to a cause you care about, to leave the world in a better place

Andy suggested that just because people are now dealing with another major health / societal / economic problem with this pandemic right now, they have not stopped caring about the cause they had originally wanted to support by signing up for your event (CONTRIBUTION).

And as most of us are now more isolated than before, having to stay at home, many of us are getting more bored, anxious and perhaps with a reduced motivation to exercise, our need for CHALLENGE and CONNECTION is now greater than it’s ever been.

For these three reasons, Andy believes we should not hold back from giving would-be participants the opportunity to still take part and fundraise through virtual events.

Proactively invite participants to do virtual fundraising events.

Invite the supporters who would have done runs, bike rides etc to still do a sponsored event for you, at home or on their own. Be proactive in inviting them to both do the real event for you in due course (eg in the autumn) and do something virtual in the short term.

Though in many ways this idea is obvious, there is great value in having a clear and deliberate strategy for what you invite people to do and how you communicate with them.

Here is what Andy’s team have been recommending to their supporters to help them maximise the positive feel of a virtual event:

  • Do the activity on or close to the original event date.
  • Just as with any event, encourage people to share across their networks, in advance what they will be doing, as well as during and after the event. This helps them feel the high of their achievement as they share the story and receive congratulations.
  • Do any distance you like, rather than needing to do the same as the planned event.
  • Join an event group on an app such as Strava or Map My Run, so you feel you’re competing alongside others in one event and to increase the sense of achievement.

In addition to an event app like Strava, Andy recommends that you:

  • Make full use of the Facebook Group for the event, which makes it easier to share and recognise successes.
  • And recognise great stories on your website
  • If possible, send medals and handwritten cards to congratulate.
Are you taking advantage of your most powerful tool?

There is another key distinction I noticed in the approach taken by Andy and his colleagues. In fact, in the last month I’ve interviewed several other outstanding fundraisers including the event fundraising expert Jane Curtis who I talked to for Episode 18 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast, and James Wright, interim Head of Public Fundraising at Sue Ryder. One thing they’ve all been practicing is the importance of actually talking to would-be event participants whenever possible.

Contrary to our worst fears, and to what some people would expect, as I know some fundraisers have wondered whether charities should contact their supporters during these worrying times), Andy has found their supporters have been dramatically more willing to pick up the phone and chat than usual since the pandemic began.

Normally Andy would expect 10 – 30% of people to pick up the phone or call him back when he calls. He told me that in March, the rate at which people have answered calls from his team has rocketed to around 90%. Why? Presumably because some people have more time the moment, and more importantly, most of us are more conscious than ever of the importance of helping other people at this difficult time.

FREE mini E-book >> Strategies to survive during the pandemic and grow massively in the long-term.

Andy’s team has achieved fabulous growth – from around £700,000 eight years ago to £4.5 million now. The source of this growth is complete clarity regarding their strategy.

This strategy came through a shift in strategic focus that the team made years ago, and which helps them develop relationships with loyal supporters willing to raise money across multiple events.

If you’d like to understand more about this strategic shift that PCUK has used to achieve this extraordinary growth, I’ve written a brief, clear summary in a short e-book.

To download your copy, where I talk about some of the short-term tactics for during the pandemic / lockdown and, crucially, the long-term growth strategy – follow the link below:

Challenge Event Fundraising Strategies – Survive the pandemic in the short-term and grow massively in the long-term.