P2P Campaigns Pivot Quickly To Virtual In Face Of Covid-19

Nonprofits that manage peer-to-peer fundraising programs tried to move quickly to transform planned, in-person events into virtual campaigns in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, many organizations expect their existing campaigns to raise only about half of what they had budgeted at the beginning of 2020, according to a new survey of 120 North American nonprofits by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.

The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey found two thirds of U.S. and Canadian nonprofits had already either hosted a virtual campaign to replace an existing program or had completed a new virtual effort in addition to what was already planned.

And three-quarters of nonprofits – an even 75 percent – had campaigns underway or were preparing to host a virtual campaign later this year.

“When Covid-19 started disrupting our day-to-day lives in March, nonprofits of all sizes realized that they needed to create virtual alternatives to their planned in-person events – and they needed to do it quickly,” said David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.

“Our research found that, in many cases, organizations didn’t just convert in-person campaigns into virtual campaigns, they also explored ways to stand up multiple virtual campaigns to help engage fundraisers who couldn’t come together for physical events in real life because of social-distancing requirements.”

Lowered Expectations

Peer-to-peer fundraising is the practice of having a nonprofit’s supporters take part in an activity such as a walk, bike ride, or video gaming challenge and reach out to their friends, family, colleagues, and followers for donations.

Collectively, the 30 largest U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns raised nearly $1.37 billion in 2019, according to the annual Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Top Thirty study.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to cause those totals to diminish significantly, according to the latest Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey, which was fielded in June.

While many large programs have yet to kick off their virtual campaigns or are still actively raising money, those that have reported fundraising totals report significant declines. Some notable examples from America’s largest programs include:

  • March of Dimes transformed its March for Babies fundraising walk series into a virtual campaign called March for Babies StepUp. The virtual campaign has raised $25 million – compared with the $48.9 million raised by March for Babies in 2019. The organization’s goal for the campaign had been $40 million before the pandemic.
  • National MS Society’s Walk MS walk series raised more than $41.7 million in 2019. Its virtual replacement has raised $22.5 million to date – though money is still coming in and totals are likely to increase.
  • The virtual version of the Arthritis Foundation’s walk series raised $3.5 million this spring. The organization had initially set a fundraising goal of $8 million for the campaign – and revised it to $2.8 million when it was forced to move to a virtual campaign.

Rays of Hope

The results have been somewhat more encouraging for a number of smaller programs, which are able to be more nimble than their larger counterparts. The ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter had set a goal of $575,000 for its annual June walk – then revised its goal to $450,000 when it pivoted to a virtual campaign. Kendra Albers, the chapter’s director of development, reports the virtual effort is on pace to meet its revised goal.

Stamford Health‘s Hope in Motion Walk & Run in Connecticut made a similar move with its June walk and has, to date, raised more than $415,000 toward its revised $450,000 goal. It is extending its fundraising deadline to Sept. 30 to give supporters more time to raise money.

But while fundraising totals are down for most organizations, the news is not all bad.

Some of the revenue losses have been offset by reduced costs associated with staging virtual campaigns versus in-person events, pointed out Gary Metcalf, president of Cadence Sports which fielded a virtual cycling challenge for the Alzheimer’s Association in June that did not meet its gross revenue goal, but actually netted more for the group due to lower expenses.

In addition, many nonprofits are launching multiple virtual campaigns to help engage supporters who might not otherwise participate.

For example, American Cancer Society, which expects revenues from its signature Relay for Life series to be down 55% percent from its original 2020 goal of $151 million, has developed a number of new virtual events.

This spring, the charity piloted a virtual running event – DetermiNation Runs the Country – in which participants log their own miles and collectively attempt to run the length of the United States. Collectively, 426 runners covered 9,943 miles and raised about $68,000, said Paul Purdy, American Cancer Society’s strategic director, endurance events.

That figure, while small compared with the organization’s overall P2P budget, was a test run for a larger campaign – DetermiNation Takes on the World. The new campaign kicked off July 20.

“With strategy and key learnings from this first campaign, we are excited for where this will take us in 2020, as well as build the structure for renewing these initiatives in 2021,” Purdy said.

Additional Resources

  • Report: Check out these five key strategies for virtual program success based on in-depth interviews with dozens of professionals in the wake of their spring campaigns. 5 Spring Learnings to Make Your Virtual Campaign Shine.
  • Webinar: Don’t miss the Building Strong Virtual Programs recorded webinar in which we bring to life all of these findings with the help of three outstanding leaders in our field. Tracy Evans of AIDS/LifecycleWilliam White of Lymphoma Research Foundation and Kristin Gibbs of the National MS Society share candid insights of strategies they will build on and those they will NOT repeat.

Webinar Recording:
Managing COVID-19’s Impact On Your Peer-to-Peer Programs

Original Broadcast Date: March 20, 2020

How should your organization react to the COVID-19 outbreak?   Postpone, cancel or move ahead?  Go virtual?   What impact will COVID-19 have on your 2020 revenues?   How should you best communicate with supporters?

Armed with a new Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey of top program executives and an expert panel, we’ll share news on what is happening in the field and gain insights into how to attack this major challenge.

During this one-hour session, you’ll have an opportunity to hear how leading peer-to-peer professionals are dealing with this crisis – and discuss how to adjust your strategies and tactics to minimize disruptions.

Among the topics we’ll cover:

    • Keeping your fundraisers, sponsors, and donors informed about the impact of COVID-19 on your programs and what they can do to help
    • A decision matrix for making Go/No Go decisions
    • How to identify creative ways to replace lost revenue

Jennifer Lee, EVP Fundraising Events, National MS Society

Elyse Meardon, Vice President of Revenue, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

Peter Panepento, Philanthropic Practice Leader, Turn Two Communications


David Hessekiel, President, Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum


PRICE: $99 or FREE for Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum members

Order Now

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2018 Top Thirty Benchmarking Survey Results


Fundraising revenue for Canada’s 30-largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs increased 1 percent in 2018, to $243.3 million, according to the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada Thirty survey of Canadian fundraising programs.

It marks the first time in the survey’s five-year history that revenues increased for these bellwether programs and shows that efforts by a number of Canadian charities to retool their programs are paying off.

“All across Canada, nonprofits are seeing strong results in their peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns,” said David Hessekiel, president of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada, which produces the annual survey. “Growth is coming from some familiar names — as well as some newcomers who are energizing a new generation of supporters who are eager to raise money for their favorite charities.”

The Ride to Conquer Cancer tops the list of Canada’s largest peer-to-per fundraising programs.

The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada Thirty survey ranks the 30 largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs in Canada.    

Peer-to-peer fundraising is the practice of having a nonprofit’s supporters take part in an activity such as a walk, bike ride or challenge and reach out to their friends, family members and colleagues for donations.

Survey Highlights

This year’s survey of the top 30 programs is led by The Princess Margaret Cancer Center’s The Ride to Conquer Cancer, which saw its revenues total $41.8 million, up more than 6 percent from $39.4 million in 2017.

The Ride, which drew an estimated 10,000 participants in four cities, has held the title of Canada’s largest P2P program since the survey began tracking campaigns in 2014.

The Terry Fox Foundation’s The Terry Fox Run, moved into second place on the list, with $24.7 million — up 2.4 percent compared with 2017. The Terry Fox Run leapfrogged over the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life campaign, which posted $23.7 million in revenues and ranked No. 3 in the survey.

Despite being one of Canada’s oldest and most established P2P programs, The Terry Fox Run has seen significant gains in recent years — even as other longstanding programs have struggled.

“The Terry Fox Run shows that with a disciplined approach, long-running peer-to-peer programs can resonate with supporters for decades,” Hessekiel said. “At a time when many nonprofits are experimenting with fundraising via live streaming and other technology, The Terry Fox Run demonstrates that there’s still room for traditional programs to thrive.”

In a fitting bookend to the Terry Fox Run, this year’s survey also includes a brand-new program —SickKids Foundation’s SickKids GetLoud, an event that was part walk and part music festival.

This first-year event pulled in $2.3 million and helped the SickKids Foundation sunset a previous program, the Great Camp Adventure, which was discontinued in 2018.

Other highlights from the survey include:

    • SickKids Foundation had the fastest-growing large campaign in North America in 2018. Its Great Cycle Challenge saw its revenues increase by a 86.4 percent to almost $4 million. This was the largest percentage increase of any campaign in Canada or the U.S. in 2018.
    • Two hockey-themed campaigns were among Canada’s fastest-growing programs of 2018. Hockey Helps the Homeless, held at 13 sites across Canada, pulled in more than $4.2 million, up 21.3 percent over the previous year. Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation’s Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer, meanwhile, raised nearly $2.7 million, up 3 percent.
    • Blue Sea Philanthropy’s Coldest Night of the Year also continued its growth trend, raising just short of $5 million in 2018, up 6.1 percent from $4.7 million in 2017. Coldest Night of the Year’s revenues have doubled since 2014.
  • Another new arrival to the list is Heart and StrokeFoundation’s My Own Fundraiser, which raised $3.2 million — making it one of the few DIY themed campaigns to make the top 30 in either the U.S. or Canada.

Download the Top 30 Narrative and Dataset

 Top 10 list

  1. Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer — Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation ($41.82 million)
  2. The Terry Fox Run, Terry Fox Foundation ($24.65 million)
  3. Relay for Life, Canadian Cancer Society ($23.7 million)
  4. Movember Canada, Movember Canada ($16.87 million)
  5. CIBC Run for the Cure, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation ($16.2 million)
  6. Jump Rope for Heart, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada ($13.33 million)
  7. MS Bike, MS Society of Canada ($8.68 million)
  8. MS Walk, MS Society of Canada ($8.13 million)
  9. World Partnership Walk, Aga Khan Foundation Canada ($7.2 million)
  10. Big Bike, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada ($7.05 million)

P2PCanada_30_4cPrevious versions of the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada Top 30 survey:

2017 — Canadian Top Thirty P2P Programs

2016 — Canadian Top Thirty P2P Programs

2015 — Canadian Top Thirty P2P Programs

2014 — Canadian Top Thirty P2P Programs

2019 Conference Report

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Cycling and Spinning Programs Struggle, But Creative Ideas Offer Signs of Hope

Ride to Conquer CancerCycling and spinning programs have been among the fastest-growing P2P campaigns in recent years.

But the largest Canadian programs struggled mightily in 2015. According to the recently released Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada Top Thirty Benchmarking Surveythe nation’s five largest cycling and spinning programs saw their revenues decline by $3.7 million, or 5.1 percent, last year.

As the list below shows, results were particularly unkind to JDRF Canada’s popular spinning series, JDRF Revolution Ride to Defeat Diabetes

  1. Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer – Princess Margaret Cancer Center – down 5%
  2. MS Bike — MS Society of Canada – down 5.3%
  3. Big Bike – Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada – down 0.2%
  4. Ride for Heart – Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada – up 3.4%
  5. JDRF Revolution Ride to Defeat Diabetes – JDRF Canada – down 19.3%

To be sure, 2015 was a tough year for most Canadian programs — not just those that involve pedals. Fundraising totals for the top 30 programs declined by 8.6 percent last year. However, the decline in cycling programs was a particularly profound wake-up call for organizers, as, until recently, cycling had been growing in popularity.

The good news is that organizers of many of these programs are taking note and making changes that aim to breathe new life into their campaigns — many of which have been pedaling along for more than a quarter of a century.

JDRF earlier this year has unveiled plans to reboot the Revolution Ride — a move that aims to attract a new generation of riders. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is also making improvements to its cycling programs, with an eye on getting new people involved.

For more on Canada’s Top 30 P2P programs, download our 2015 report.

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2016 Conference Evaluation


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P2P Fundraising Canada - 2016 Conference Evaluation

Electronic evaluation for the 2015 conference.

2015 Workshop Evaluation


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Build Your Network


Take advantage of the many opportunities during the conference to meet your peers:

8:00 AM to 8:30 AM — Breakfast in the Exhibit Hall

10:00 AM to 10:30 AM — Networking Coffee in the Exhibit Hall

1:00 PM to 1:30 PM — Dessert Reception in the Exhibit Hall

4:15 PM to 5:00 PM — Closing Reception

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