Our need to be socially distant has been a huge blow for many industries. For the charity sector, it’s meant an abrupt end to mass participation and challenge events such as marathons, bike rides and walks. The deferral or cancellation of such community propositions has impacted not just supporter engagement plans but also removed a traditionally large income stream.  Peer-to-peer fundraising heavyweights like the London Marathon would usually raise over £60m a year for beneficiary charities.

Charities have been impressively agile with their responses. They are adapting quickly, swapping physical events for solo and virtual challenges or moving to organise online gaming competitions. All of which are a perfect fit for ‘the new normal’. We’ve already seen events like Run for Heroes take off around the UK. Thousands of people ran 5km, donated £5 and nominated 5 of their friends to support key workers. A simple, grass-roots, shareable, fairly accessible idea that’s raised a truly impressive £5m at the time of writing. (They even managed to make that a 5!)

In Australia we have witnessed the MS Society’s ‘The May 50K’ personal challenge event soar to success this month. With participant numbers increasing over 400% year-on-year and revenue following the same trajectory toward $6m, it goes to show that supporters still relish the opportunity to make a positive impact.

Over 10+ years of creating, running or advising about award-winning virtual events you have asked us hundreds of questions. We reviewed the most common ones as well as the key questions arising right now. These will be followed by a second collection coming hot on their heels!

1. Should I explain the role of the pandemic in my communications?

Yes – you should tell people what effect COVID-19 is having on your organisation, how you plan to keep people safe, and how it affects your income and, of course, why you’re running virtual events. Supporters will usually understand the need to be flexible, safe and innovative, but some organisations mistakenly hide this basic and necessary messaging.

2. What type of virtual challenge(s) should we offer?

There are many different events you can arrange for your supporters, as well as there being great potential for them to choose their own adventure.

Our tips: consider these four areas when planning what to offer a participant:

  • Is the challenge worthy of a participant being sponsored? 20 mins of yoga twice a week may not be quite enough.
  • Is the challenge achievable by the target audience? A daily 100km bike ride for a month might be beyond most non-elite athletes.
  • How busy is the marketplace for a given type of challenge? If every cause offers a ‘Walk 10,000 steps per day for a month’ challenge it is tough to get cut-through and expensive to recruit participants.
  • What tech or equipment does the supporter need? If the challenge requires certain gear, or a fitness tracker, you’ll want to support those needs for your participants.

3. Should we limit the number of choices offered?

It is a balancing act: giving people a choice of activities can sometimes attract wider participation, however too many options triggers confusion. By saying “do what you want, when you want” people will most likely do nothing. Our top tip: craft just a few simple options of ways to take part, ideally within a focused timeframe. 

A good example of this simplicity is the Run for Heroes initiative mentioned above. We totally acknowledge that the balance can be hard to find. An indication of the widest level of effective choice is the 2.6 Challenge in the UK. It has raised a huge £10m for good causes with an open approach to participants. 

Bonus tip: how can I test if I am offering too many options?

  • First test: clearly describe the challenge and a call to action in a 140 character tweet. If that proves problematic, it could be time to review it.
  • Second test: mock-up a possible mobile landing page or mobile view of a homepage for the challenge. Using a UX user-review 5-second test, ask some of your supporters what key messages they take away, and what they understand the proposition to be.
  • Third test: what would you actually do yourself, if presented with the proposition?

4. How do I get the correct fundraising or event tech? And what tech should I use?

The need for platforms or technology to support your participants will vary based upon your proposition.

The fundamental principle: technology should help both the supporter to achieve their aims and you to achieve your organisation’s aims.

For almost all centrally-coordinated virtual events our tip is to work with a customisable integrated registration and fundraising platform such as Artez, everydayhero, Funraisin or Raisely. Using an integrated platform can significantly improve conversion to fundraising, fundraising performance and supporter delight (due to reduced admin). A second tip, make sure your choice of platform will enable you to brand, optimise and personalise the supporters’ journeys. Not only does this help build better  relationships, it will also positively impact your fundraising. 

Many open and customisable, modern platforms offer integrations to help participants track their physical challenge performance alongside their fundraising. If it is possible to complete this as part of your event set-up it is really worth doing. It reduces friction for the participants and decreases the risk of requiring an overwhelming array of tools. Such modern platforms also enable simple integration with CRM systems or marketing automation tools. Another tip is to press on with making this (or these) connections. By joining your fundraising platform with your marketing / participant nurture engine you will be able to craft ever more effective journeys. 

Those providers offering easy access to their technology and the data managed by it, also provide you with the building blocks necessary for the next tips.

5. Should I build an app to support my virtual challenge?

For certain virtual event propositions native mobile apps can be hugely helpful, making them another tip for you to explore. Not only does a well-designed app enhance supporter value but also you can engage with participants directly via polls, chat or notifications. This type of update helps increase a participant’s awareness of their fundraising success, their fellow participants and their physical challenge performance.

Apps are a wonderful delivery route for training resources, coaching videos, start-line activity, beneficiary updates and many other additions to the overall event experience. Another top tip, why not host surveys and polls in your app? By allowing your participants to share regular feedback, their “user” input can help you shape their supporter journey.  

A couple of words of warning. Not every proposition will benefit from an app, and a fully-customised and integrated app will require an investment. Apps tend to work well for virtual events with:

  • a duration longer than one day (they underpin engagement);
  • physical challenge components (they help participants to record and monitor their performance); and 
  • a target audience who are digital natives / they are familiar with app usage.

6. How can I optimise fundraising performance?

Now, more than ever, each and every £, $ or € is important for your mission. The ways you can test and optimise the performance of your fundraising event vary based upon the platform(s) you are using. 

The first tip is missed by many organisations: define what you need to measure to understand and influence how your event is performing (these are your KPIs). Then, equally important and equally frequently overlooked, our second tip: ensure your analytics or BI platform is set up properly to measure and report against all your KPIs. 

A quick note about KPIs. When working with our clients during the preparation for an event we have found it is often best to concentrate on between 5 and 10 KPIs. Within this range you can monitor the stats, see trends and take practical steps to steer plus optimise your campaign. More than 10 KPIs and you run the risk of data capture / analysis becoming its own substantial project. Even if you can generate the insights, prioritising how to act upon them becomes difficult. 

We’re going to be sharing our insights about participant acquisition and supporter engagement plus tips to improve your event’s fundraising activation and average donation levels in blogs later this month. Meanwhile let’s look at tips to help you with another metric we regularly optimise for our clients: conversion rate during a registration.

Along with adopting best practice for forms (such as designing mobile-first, adding a step-nav and considering how fast you can make the interaction) we would recommend the following:

  • Multi-step forms, or contextual reveal on single page forms, usually work better when you are collecting a lot of information (albeit it is worth testing for your specific proposition as ever)
  • Capture email address, first name and marketing opt-in early in the process. This should permit remarketing communication should a registrant run into any issues when they are trying to complete the process
  • Offer Facebook or Google account log-in routes to help reduce friction
  • Monitor the conversion rates at all steps on a registration journey and seek to improve any which are performing worse than the average
  • Use tools like Hotjar and Mouseflow to better understand aspects of a journey which are creating undue confusion or reluctance
  • Consider an address look-up service such as Loqate to speed-up the user interaction and improve the quality of your data 
  • Should a phone number be important to collect, consider an inline validation process
  • When capturing a supporter’s motivation or their story, help them complete this step by supplying options or default copy for them to customise
  • Optional aspects of the process should be marked…optional! A bit obvious, but often missing
  • Related to the above point, provide ‘skip this and come back to it later’ narrative if that is what a user can actually do at any point in the process

Two final thoughts on this. If you are capturing a registration fee it is also a good moment to offer merchandise or collect a donation / start fundraising. And if you are welcoming someone into a big challenge, a costly or a complex event, you might want to add a short video at the start or end of registration to answer their questions about ‘what happens next?’.

As ever in the world of digital fundraising and marketing, small tweaks and experiments can really generate significant extra income. 

Let us know how you get on with any of the above tips and tricks, or if you have any questions, our expert fundraisers, UX consultants, marketers, creatives and technologists are on hand to help!