Charity events go digital in 2020

How have charities adapted to online events in the absence of physical gatherings and fundraisers?

“We asked people to collectively walk the UK coastline”

We spoke to four charities about how adapting to online events has allowed them to continue their vital work.

Claire Hall is head of events and fundraising at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE)

“We had a range of events lined up, from mass participation events to smaller regional dinners, so the pandemic had a significant impact on our ability to connect with donors and provide memorable experiences. We cancelled all face-to-face events and had to reimagine them.

“Our major mass-participation event in recent years is a weekend of camping and hiking, which epitomises the spirit of the awards. People walk 30km on the Saturday, there’s an overnight camp with a bit of a party atmosphere, then another 20km the following day. Around 900 – 1,000 people usually participate every year. It was unfortunate to cancel, but we didn’t want to lose the opportunity to engage with our supporters.

“So we transitioned to a virtual event involving the creation of a new platform and came up with the idea of collectively walking the coastline of the UK, asking people to walk 30km and raise £100. The platform we built was an interactive hub that could link to people’s Strava or Fitbit accounts and track mileage as well as providing a donation platform. Participants could get virtual awards for reaching various milestones and join as a team or individual.

“We had to adapt, learn and innovate as well as test the product. We got it up and running in about three weeks and were surprised how successful it was.

“We’ve moved other events online, too, such as our Business Breakfast. We’d normally have around 30 guests attending this. But we’ve reduced the numbers to fit the digital format, making it easier for people to interact with the young people we support. These events are more cause-led, rather than fundraising exercises, but they’re critical to keeping donors and partners close to us.

“Looking ahead, we see the opportunity for the virtual aspect to sit alongside physical events when things get back to normal.”

“The mayor dressed as a witch to launch our Halloween fun run”

Ruth Campbell is marketing and communications manager at Aspens

“Based in Sussex and Kent, Aspens provides personalised support to children, young people and adults with a range of disabilities and complex learning needs. We help them learn new skills, get the most out of life and contribute to society wherever possible.

“During the first lockdown, we decided to increase fundraising, having not done many face-to-face events previously, and had to be creative with ideas for doing things virtually.

“Among the first was Aspens Fest, a virtual festival held over a weekend in the summer holidays. Its aim was to help young people, children and families who were anxious about going back to school and going out and about after the first lockdown. We ran online workshops like yoga, mindfulness and art with education experts as guest speakers. We also had Britain’s Got Talent finalist Robert White – who has Asperger’s – perform a special song as the headline act.

“Most recently we organised the Halloween Spooky 5k Run, with people dressing up and sending in photos or videos. The Mayor of Tunbridge Wells dressed as a witch to open the event, which we filmed and put online as well as posting films and photos on social media. The event was set up using a platform called Enthuse, which people could use 

From a fundraising perspective, online auctions have worked well, and we raised £60,000 from our first one

Michelle Martin
director of development and communities, Marie Curie

“Obviously, we have a GDPR policy so getting consent from individuals to be contacted for future events is critical. To promote the Spooky 5k, we did a lot of social media promotion and some paid Facebook promotion to boost posts, which is a relatively inexpensive way to advertise.

“Other innovations include the recent implementation of PayIt in our shops and cafe, as a convenient system for online payments, while for our virtual Christmas quiz, we’ll be flashing up QR codes between rounds alongside pictures of people we support to appeal for donations.”

“We raised £60,000 from our first online auction”

- Michelle Martin is director of development and communities at Marie Curie

“We’re continually testing and learning with online events. We started with a full physical programme that we had to cancel and were then faced with the choice: do we stop an event entirely? Or can we pivot that event to something online?

“From a fundraising perspective, online auctions have worked well, and we raised £60,000 from our first one. Similarly, we had an art event planned at the Royal Academy, with some fantastic art donated, but we knew we couldn’t hold the event physically. So we worked with one of our partners, Christie’s, and did an online art auction from there.

“If it’s a direct fundraising event and there are financial transactions involved, obviously we have to do all the usual risk assessments in terms of information security and information governance.

“But the engagement part is essential; a core part of our income is legacy income. Ordinarily, we’d have a series of face-to-face legacy events and these have moved online. It’s enabled us to do exclusive briefings and people get to meet staff they wouldn’t usually have a chance to.

“There’s a plethora of new platforms out there and navigating them is a challenge for fundraisers who aren’t experts in this space. But Microsoft Teams is a simple tool we use internally. We’re also able to use it to live-stream events and invite people to attend, which has been successful and cost effective.

“The core principles of organising a physical event are valid to online equivalents. So, thinking about the user experience from start to finish and how people are going to be able to access that online event is critical. Think about what the barriers might be for people? What’s their experience going to be like before, during and after? All those basics are vital to event planning and apply equally to online events too.”

“We had 55,000 people view Our Race for Life Facebook live stream”

Sarah Pickersgill is head of marketing, events, fundraising products and marketing services at Cancer Research UK

“Our Race for Life events were unfortunately cancelled this year. But we were determined to bring our fantastic fundraising community together.

“With live streaming agency Groovy Gecko’s expertise, we encouraged supporters to join a series of live-stream events that were fun, engaging and heartfelt. Cancer Research UK held its first-ever Race for Life at Home [event] with Facebook Live events. Running over several weeks in April and May, celebrities such as singer and X-Factor star Jake Quickenden led workouts streamed to people’s homes. Viewers could submit questions and share personal experiences in a private pop-up box on screen moderated by the hosts.

“The success of these was followed by a Facebook Live event, A Very 2020 Race for Life, hosted by TV presenter Alex Jones in September. Some 55,000 viewers tuned in to the Race for Life Facebook page to experience an event day, including hearing from people affected by cancer, a minute’s silence to remember loved ones and a warm-up routine. After the live stream, participants were invited to set off on their own 5k in local parks and neighbourhoods.”

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