Lessons Learned from a Virtual Road Race
Updated: Jul 2
The world changed, and we needed to change with it. Does this sound familiar?
We at Fundraise4U.net were fortunate to have worked alongside the amazing folks at For Kids’ Sake Foundation over these past several months to raise money in support of patients and families affected by pediatric cancer.
We were specifically asked to handle the sponsorship side of one of their signature fundraising events, the Superhero 5k & 10k Race to Crush Cancer. This was set to be the 10th annual event, through
which the foundation raises a large chunk of their annual fundraising budget.
And then in March, as we know...the world changed.
Our initial ‘wait and see’ approach gave way to the idea of a virtual race, run by donors, sponsors and friends who would still be committed to the foundation’s stated mission: to make this world a better place for pediatric cancer patients and their families.
Most of the world had not seen virtual road races prior to this pandemic, but when faced with the reality that cancer patients and their families do not take a break for pandemics, we pushed forward.
What was supposed to be a blended marketing strategy, which combined printed signs and mailings with email blasts and social media posts became almost solely reliant on email, videos and social media...and a network of committed friends, community members and volunteers who were willing and able to roll up their sleeves and raise money for this wonderful cause.
Two months prior to the event we had raised just a bit more than $5,000. A month later, that number had risen to $10,000. The race was run this past Sunday, and our fundraising total was just under $21,000...a successful ending to a fundraising journey in which we pivoted in March, found our bearings in April, hit our stride in May and knocked it out of the park in June.
This post is not a victory lap, however. It is an opportunity for me to share some lessons that we learned in this, our inaugural virtual race, in hopes that those of you who may be considering a virtual event of this nature may find it a bit easier after reading this perspective. I used to be a big fan of Dave Letterman, so I have chosen to use his preferred and famous format of a Top Ten List, so here goes…
1. If circumstances force you to turn your traditional event into a virtual event, communicate the reasons why you have to go virtual, why you still need to have your event and why participant/donor/sponsor support is needed now more than ever.
We reminded people that pediatric cancer doesn’t take a break for the pandemic...that resonated with our community. There is no better time than now for noble causes and for events that will make the world a better place. Make sure that you communicate who you are, what your mission and impact is, and how and why your event will make the world a better place.
2. Create videos that reinforce your mission, communicate your pivot and reason for a virtual event, and how to run a virtual race. Remember, for most of us, this is our first experience with virtual races, so it is important to visually demystify and simplify the event.
3. Communicate using the same fundamental training tenets of frequency, intensity and duration when creating and pushing out content...and consistently use an event- or cause-based hashtag. We used #SUPERHERO2020. Don’t overwhelm or underwhelm your audience, and don’t be afraid to over-post on social media. Be respectful, however, of recipient email inboxes.
4. Have an amazing community of volunteers who will create fundraising teams and reach out to their friends, families and companies on your behalf. This is a huge bonus when considering an event-based, crowdfunding strategy.
5. Turn a negative into a positive. Show (and communicate) your organization’s resiliency, and reinforce your organization’s mission in the process. Don’t get bogged down by what you can no longer do – focus instead on what you CAN do…and take that mantra into your messaging.
6. Include a ‘how-to’ guide...because what the hell is a virtual road race, right? Spell out the steps and options for people and invite them to join in on the fun- on their own terms!
7. Create an event countdown on social media. We chose a 10-Day countdown, and it worked extremely well in terms of increasing (1) sign-ups and (2) donations.
8. Make it easy! The registration, donation and sponsorship process should be easy, not difficult. Efficient, not cumbersome. People care about your mission – that’s why they want to help. Don’t risk turning people off, or turning people away, because you have a clunky registration or donation system.
9. Always have a virtual component in the future- pandemic or not. Once the world gets back to normal and we are able to congregate more freely and safely, we will return to a traditional race format, but we will absolutely still offer a virtual component. It was so special to see people chime in, post photos and messages and make pledges online from places like Texas and New Jersey and participate in the day’s fun from afar. It was also rewarding to know that some people who may otherwise be intimidated by showing up to a traditional race format felt more able to participate on their own, in their own way, in a more comfortable and familiar setting. The virtual format doesn’t cost you anything but time, and it broadens and deepens your community of participants, donors and even sponsors.
10. Thank well. This is a common theme with our fundraising strategies, but at Fundraise4U.net, we firmly believe that you don’t get to say ‘please’ if you are not willing to say ‘thank you’. Thank well, and make that thanks timely, meaningful, specific and (whenever possible) public. Our video and marketing teams (led by Grace Peluso and Christina Darko, respectively) created an amazing ‘thank you’ video (released the day after the event) in which we recognized the participants who posted photos online using the hashtag #SUPERHERO2020 as well as our race sponsors. In addition, we created timely thank you posts that were ready to launch at the conclusion of the race.
I hope that these ten tips and insights might be helpful as you consider your way forward with your own virtual event(s). If you have any questions at all, or would like to share some of your experience with the ever-changing event landscape, please feel free to reach out to me at Ted@Fundraise4U.net.
Thank you, and good luck!