Inside SickKids Foundation’s Bold Decision to End a Successful Walk Program

SickKids Get Loud challenged participants to reach new heights with their fundraising.

With a prominent title sponsor, 3,000 annual participants, and revenues of $2.44 million, The Canaccord Genuity Great Camp Adventure Walk had all the markings of a successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

But when Nancy Jordan and her team at the SickKids Foundation looked under the hood, they worried that the 5-year-old walk event had already seen its best days.

So they took a bold step and started over.

Instead of trying to squeeze dollars from what was still a successful campaign, the SickKids Foundation decided to pull the plug and replace the Great Camp Adventure Walk with something new.

The result was SickKids Get Loud — a campaign designed to reignite the interest of some of the previous walk’s participants while also attracting an entirely new group of supporters.

While the Great Camp Adventure Walk was a 20-kilometer walk aimed at families with young children, SickKids Get Loud! followed a different formula.

The new event featured a shorter, 5-kilometer walk, followed by a music festival featuring popular bands such as Barenaked Ladies and Magic! To attend the festival, participants need to hit a fundraising minimum of $300. But any participant can take part in the walk, regardless of how much money they raise.

This new formula gave participants a greater incentive to raise money — and it helped draw more people.

SickKids Get Loud debuted in the fall of 2018 with more than 4,350 participants, $2.3 million in revenues and a spot on Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada’s ranking of the top 30 P2P programs.

More importantly, Jordan sees growth on the horizon.

SickKids is looking to draw up to 5,000 participants and raise $2.6 million this year.

What’s more, the organization has provided a blueprint for when to make the often painful decision to move on from a successful peer-to-peer campaign at the right time.

Here are four key lessons:

Know your audience — One of the biggest factors in SickKids’ decision to move on from the Great Camp Adventure Walk was its audience. The walk was designed to be very kid friendly. This was appealing to younger children and their families, but the format made it difficult to get them to keep coming back as they grew older.

“It wasn’t cool enough,” Jordan said of how the walk was seen by older kids.

As a result, participation had plateaued — and the organization was devoting considerable resources to recruit new participants each year to replace those who had aged out of the program.

Create long-term agreements with sponsors — SickKids takes an uncommon approach to sponsorships — pushing to lock its key corporate supporters into 5-year contracts rather than year-to-year agreements. This helps the organization build consistent revenue bases for multiple years. It also gives SickKids an opportunity to discuss contract extensions years before their current agreements end.

Because of this approach, Jordan said the nonprofit was able to learn years ahead of time that two of its largest initial sponsors were unlikely to return for a second contract. While this news was painful, it also gave her a heads up about a potential revenue decline.

Assess what has changed — Like some couples, nonprofits and their peer-to-peer programs can grow apart. When SickKids launched its innovative SickKids VS branding campaign in 2016, it grew increasingly difficult for Jordan and her team to connect the Great Camp Adventure Walk to the nonprofit’s brand.

Rather than continuing to fit a square peg into a round hole, SickKids determined that it might work better to develop a new program that was more aligned with its new brand.

Break old habits — As peer-to-peer programs begin to age, it becomes more difficult to break bad habits. In the case of the Great Camp Adventure Walk, SickKids continually drew a large number of $0 fundraisers — or those who raised only a small amount of money.

And once that habit becomes a part of a campaign’s culture, it’s difficult to break.

Rebranding the campaign and giving it a new format gave SickKids an opportunity to start over, set new expectations, and change its messaging around fundraising.

Sunsetting a longtime peer-to-peer fundraising campaign isn’t easy — nor is it for everyone.

But by being thoughtful, deliberate, and creative, you can create something completely new and successful out of the ashes of a sagging program.