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.