With years of experience under his belt working on many of the UK’s largest event fundraising programs, John Tasker founded the agency Massive in 2014 to focus entirely on mass participation events and campaigns. I recently spoke with John to get his perspective on how the pandemic has impacted these programs in the UK and what he sees coming down the pike.
Q: What types of fundraising programs does Massive work with in the UK?
A: Our team at various stages has worked on more than half of the programs in our survey of the 25 most successful peer to peer fundraisers in the UK and have recently starting working internationally supporting Cancer Council NSW in Australia.
In the last 12-18 months we’ve been working with a lot charities to adapt their peer-to-peer programs to cope with COVID and developing and launching new virtual events.
Q: Could you give me a feel for the size and scope of the UK peer-to-peer fundraising market?
A: Pre-COVID the 25 programs in our survey raised around $200M. When COVID hit, 96% of that income was put at risk when lockdowns and restrictions meant those activities just couldn’t happen.
It was inspiring to see and be involved in helping the sector react to that. As a result of how quickly organizations were able to pivot to virtual or alternative ways of fundraising, income from the top 25 fell by less than 50%.
What was interesting was how loyal participants were, we typically saw between 40-50% transfer to a virtual version of the event they entered when the original was cancelled. In Scotland we saw The Kiltwalk hold on to more than 60% of their participants as they transition from physical to virtual.
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Of course, those programs that had already been established as virtual propositions were in a strong position to capitalize on the restrictions. For example Diabetes UK’s 1 Million Step Challenge managed to more than doubled their fundraising from to $1.1M to $2.7M in 2020
Q: How would you compare where England is vs. the United States this fall concerning holding physical peer-to-peer fundraising events?
A: Much like the US, the UK was hit hard at the start of the pandemic and through early 2021 but thanks to high vaccination rates, and restrictions being relaxed, mass events are certainly back here.
The London Marathon will go ahead this month with more than 50,000 runners, plus spectators on the streets of London without the need for masks or social distancing. Nonprofits that have their own physical events are starting to host them again.
There is talk of vaccine passports being introduced later in the year but in many respects, life with regards to mass events is pretty close to how it was pre-pandemic.
Understandably, organizations whose supporters may be immune suppressed are being more cautious, but most nonprofits with big peer to peer events programs who can physically deliver them this Autumn are doing so. For some, that means going ahead with planned dates for autumn. For Cancer Research UK, which deliver the UK’s biggest physical peer to peer program (Race for Life) it has meant rescheduling what was a “lost” series of nationwide spring and early summer events into the next few weeks.
Q: You worked with a lot of major nonprofit groups on “virtualizing” and “hybridizing” their programs since the pandemic began. What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
A: The key thing we’ve learnt is how similar virtual peer to peer fundraisers are to physical peer to peer events.
The most successful programs connect cause, activity and audience in a way that means people are excited to share what they are doing, why they are doing it and most importantly to ask their peers to support their fundraising.
A clear and simple ask, strong messaging around the cause and building on the shared experience of those taking part to create a sense of community are still key.
We’ve also seen the flexibility about when, where and how supporters can take part in virtual activities (and the need to find something to do during the 4 lockdowns we’ve had) has meant many programs have been very successful in attracting new supporters through virtual activities.
Q: How are you and your clients planning for 2022? What are some of the changes you expect to see compared to how programs were run pre-pandemic? Do you expect some programs to be eliminated?
A: Whilst there’s still some lingering doubt that we may not yet be out of the COVID woods, most organizations we speak to that have had to cancel events this spring and summer are planning a full return to physical peer to peer events in 2022. Many are taking the time we’ve had away from events to re-examine their programs, asking questions of how they can build on the learnings of virtual campaigns and what elements add most value to participants.
We expect very few programs will be retired. What’s more common is a merging of virtual and physical versions to create hybrid events where people have the option to take part physically or virtually.
We are also seeing some of the new virtual cycling, running or walking events launched in the pandemic, move in the other direction and look to pilot physical versions in 2022.
I’m confident that here and in the US, when this is over peer-to-peer fundraising will be in a much stronger place. We believe programs won’t have to chose between virtual or physical but having the best of both.
If that is the case, then we certainly won’t have let a good crisis go to waste.