The charity sector has been particularly negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Mass participation events such as the London Marathon comprise a not-insignificant proportion of charities annual fundraising and their cancellation has caused widespread distress amongst a number of organisations. Smaller charities have been hit particularly hard and without healthy streams of fundraising many of them will consequently not be able to survive.
Let’s Do This spoke to Christy Thomson, Community and Volunteering Manager at The Yard - a local charity based in the East of Scotland, which provides adventure play services for disabled children - who organised ‘Go the extra yard for The Yard’, an inclusive Virtual Event offering a 10k, a 5k, and a 1k run to participants.
Tickets were priced at £5 for all distances and the Virtual Event sold 180 tickets, and with added charity donations, generated over £1,900 for The Yard.
Initially, Thomson was apprehensive about staging a Virtual Event as The Yard had never before hosted their own endurance event as a means of fundraising: “as a charity, our main aim for holding our virtual event was to try and raise some funds, but we also wanted to find a way to keep our community and our supporters connected to The Yard.”
Another concern for The Yard was the relative lack of budget available to launch a Virtual Event, however, Let's Do This offer a platform with no upfront costs, making Virtual Events far more readily accessible to charities - especially smaller charities who have been feeling the financial strain of coronavirus.
Moreover, the expert advice offered by Let's Do This in developing and marketing Go The Extra Yard for The Yard allayed any fears about budget constraints or relative lack of experience in organising an endurance event with such a quick turnaround time: "Let’s Do This were fantastic with helping us think of ways we could make the event as simple as possible and they gave us great tips for promoting the event, with a clear simple concept and messaging."
The Yard had a particularly strong social media campaign, utilising connections with local businesses and influencers - for example Scotland international rugby player Adam Hastings - to share their Virtual Event with a wider audience. Not only did social sharing help boost the profile of Go the Extra Yard for The Yard, but also helped to introduce The Yard to people who were not yet familiar with the charity: "we had 179 sign ups, mentions on multiple social media platforms and an opportunity to bring awareness to people who might never have heard about The Yard in a completely different way!"
It is important to note that Virtual Events benefitting smaller local charities have a particularly clear USP: supporting the vital work of a charity that is otherwise struggling due to coronavirus.
Thomson also noted the importance of urgency when marketing a Virtual Event fundraiser; "I think the best piece of advice I got was not to start promoting the event too early, it kind of goes against how you think events should be planned but I feel it really helps you keep up the momentum online if you have less lead in time." This is echoed by the data seen in fig. 2, showing that bookings for the Virtual Event peaked in the week of the Event itself. This sense of urgency re-creates the race-day buzz of a Physical Event and keeps communities active and engaged in the lead up to a Virtual Event.
Coming Together, Whilst Remaining Apart
All virtual events powered by Let's Do This feature a gallery of finishers' photos, as well as a virtual finish line (fig. 3) displaying finishers' times which can also be filtered by age and distance categories, as well as sorted by time. Of 125 finishers, 82% submitted photos, Thomson telling Let's Do This that it was "heart-warming to watch all the selfies being posted up."
Not only does the interactivity of the Let's Do This finish-line keep the organiser connected with participants, it also allows participants to remain connected with one another. Participants can virtually hi-five one another, as well as comment on finishers' selfies. Moreover, Let's Do This also allows users to form groups to enter into Virtual Events together and provide both support and healthy competition with one another.
By offering a range of distances (10k, 5k, and 1k), as well as opening up the event to walkers The Yard were able to keep the appeal of Go The Extra Yard for The Yard broad, as well as keeping it accessible for participants of all ages and ability levels.
The Bottom Line
Where do The Yard see the future of Virtual Events? "I think virtual events are going to be massive for charities and organisations" Thomson told us, noting that The Yard were looking to make their Virtual Event an annual calendar event.
Not only are Virtual Events an effective way for smaller charities to keep communities engaged and active, they are also excellent ways to drive fundraising - not only whilst Physical Events are on hold, but also as future alternatives to mass participation events.