New Survey Results: Physical, Virtual or Hybrid Next Spring?

As the fall peer-to-peer fundraising season winds down, organizations are beginning to take steps to map out their spring 2021 plans in the face of a deadly pandemic that is showing no signs of easing up.

A new survey of nearly 100 Canadian and U.S. nonprofits by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum finds that more than half of groups that manage spring campaigns have already decided what form they will take.

Not surprisingly, most of the organizations that have made decisions are opting to avoid in person gatherings.

Nearly half reported that they are planning to hold virtual campaigns.

Another one in four said they planned to host hybrid programs, which combine elements of in-person and virtual events.

And some, such as Junior Achievement, say they are giving local chapters the opportunity to make decisions based on circumstances in their communities or are moving their spring campaigns to a later date, with the hope that they can safely host in-person events in the summer or fall.

Of the 48% that have not yet decided, half expect to commit by the end of this year while the rest planned to wait until 2021.

The takeaway is clear: in spite of uncertainty about pandemic restrictions in 2021, nonprofits want to make programming decisions early enough to filed strong programs than they were able to produce this year.

“This spring, the coronavirus forced almost every organization to scrap their long-planned events and create virtualized campaigns on the fly,” said David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. “It’s clear based on this latest research that most groups are taking active steps to avoid facing the same fate in 2021. Rather than waiting, they’re making decisions now so they can begin communicating with their supporters and get a jump start on fundraising.”

Keeping the door open

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention decided to make a call now so they can begin communicating with supporters about what to expect – even though restrictions might loosen before spring.

As a result, AFSP this month announced that its spring walk series – which is held on college and high school campuses between March and May – will be done under a virtual model. But the group has also left the door open to add an in-person component if conditions improve, said Nicole Dolan, senior director for its Out of Darkness Walk series.

“This is all very new in terms of how we look ahead to spring,” Dolan says. “We needed to take out some of the guesswork and just come up with a plan so that everyone is working with the same framework now.”

The organization is still waiting to make decisions on its late-spring and early-summer events – but expects to make announcements between three and five months before the launch of each program.

Hybrid models

The National Psoriasis Foundation is among a number of nonprofits who have decided to move forward with hybrid campaigns.

In fact, it is hosting a December gala in which a limited number of participants will attend in person while others will be able to watch the event online. The gala, which includes an awards program, will give those who are attending virtually an opportunity to congratulate its top honoree on screen.

For its spring Team NPF walk series, participants will have the option of participating in person. For those who choose this option, they will be able to pick up a gift bag and T-shirt and then walk on their own at a designated park in their community – observing social distancing. Like many other walks, the foundation’s walks will feature a virtual kickoff event to avoid pulling together a crowd.

“We have been successful in offering both the in-person and virtual option so there is no reason not to continue to offer both options no matter what happens in 2021,” said Kris Bockmier, the foundation’s director of field operations.

Forging ahead

While most P2P programs plan to stick with virtual or hybrid events, a small, but significant, minority are forging ahead with physical events.

Sixteen percent of the groups who have made decisions about 2021 report that they are moving ahead with some form of in-person campaign in the New Year.

Hockey Helps the Homeless, a Canadian group that brings together hockey teams to participate in tournaments and raise money for homeless charities, plans to move ahead with live tournaments starting as early as January 22.

The organization has created a strict set of protocols to help ensure player safety – and has developed a system for scaling up and scaling down the number of people who can participate in each tournament based on the current state of the virus.

“We’ve been able to do this because we’re hyper-focused on doing one thing very well,” said Ryan Bailie, the organization’s executive director.