The pandemic has dealt a tremendous blow to nonprofits that raise money via peer-to-peer fundraising (money raised by supporters who ask their connections to sponsor them for taking part in a walk, ride, celebrating a birthday or numerous other types of activities.)
Managers of P2P fundraising programs responding to an online survey and telephone interviews expect virtual campaigns created in response to the pandemic to raise only about half of what had been budgeted for at the beginning of 2020 for physical programs, according to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. (Click here for a deeper dive into the research.).
A June Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey of 120 nonprofits found two thirds of U.S. and Canadian groups 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 had campaigns underway or were preparing to host a virtual campaign later this year. Only 4% of respondents reported they had been able to field a physical event before the pandemic shut down such gatherings.
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.
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.
The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum 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.
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:
- American Cancer Society expects revenues from its signature Relay for Life series to be down 55% percent from its original 2020 goal of $151 million.
- 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 results have been somewhat more encouraging for a number of smaller programs, which are able to be more nimble than their larger counterparts. The virtual neighborhood walk that the ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter produced in June , for example, is on track to raise $450,000 or 78% of its pre-pandemic goal of $575,000, according to Kendra Albers, the chapter’s director of development. (A recording of a recent presentation by Albers on the program’s success strategies is available from the Forum.)
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. The American Cancer Society recently launched DetermiNation Takes on the World, an effort to recruit runners to collectively run enough miles to circumnavigate the earth.
More details from the study and success strategies from experts in the filed will be brought to life on August 20 via a webinar entitled Building Strong Virtual Programs,