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Keys to Virtual Cancer Fundraising Success During and After COVID-19

Web Exclusives — April 30, 2021

Cancer organizations struggled with a massive decline in donations in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Job losses made it difficult for millions of Americans to donate, and live events were put on hold because of safety concerns and restrictions on in-person gatherings.

In fact, 32.4% of planned fundraising events were cancelled in 2020, according to a new report from QGiv. More than half of nonprofits moved live events to a virtual format in 2020.

How will nonprofit organizations and cancer advocacy groups approach cancer fundraising in 2021? When will it be safe to bring back live events? A total of 26.6% of respondents to the QGiv survey still aren’t sure. Although vaccine distribution is in high gear, many public health experts are concerned about another surge in COVID-19 cases.

As a result, virtual fundraising events aren’t going anywhere; 23.7% of respondents plan to run virtual-only events, whereas only 3.5% plan to completely return to in-person events. A total of 17.9% of the respondents will do both types of events, and 28.3% plan to run hybrid events.

The Case for Virtual Fundraising

Although nothing can match the emotional impact of gathering in person, virtual fundraising has clear advantages for cancer organizations. Every event has a global reach. Virtual events are far less expensive and time-consuming to plan and execute. They also tend to be condensed into shorter programs and allow people to attend from home. As a result, attendance rates for virtual events are high, and events can be held more frequently.

Donating to a virtual fundraiser to support patients with cancer can be as simple as clicking a link and hitting a “donate” button. Attending, giving, and registering for a monthly giving program are easy when you have access to a computer or mobile device. Virtual events also enable you to track and analyze donations, engagement, and other activity so you can determine what works, and what doesn’t, in your fundraising event.

Fortunately, just about any event can be moved to a virtual format. Think about the activities that your donors miss the most, such as concerts, art exhibits, wine tastings, comedy shows, and competitions, and try to incorporate them into your virtual events.

Make sure to test your video conferencing platform before your virtual cancer fundraisers. Try to use a hardwired connection if possible, which is less prone to signal disruption than Wi-Fi. Most platforms allow you to record your events, so take advantage of this capability. This way your supporters will be able to view events on demand, and your organization can review each event and improve the execution of future events.

The most effective virtual events have one person hosting and another person managing the technology. Use real-time polls and trivia questions to keep participants actively engaged. Chat features can also be used to provide links to donate and registration pages throughout your virtual fundraiser.

Real-World Virtual Fundraising Inspiration for Cancer Organizations

Even as the country begins to open up and resume in-person activities, virtual events are likely to remain a critical component of cancer fundraising strategies. Here are 5 examples of how nonprofit organizations are approaching virtual cancer fundraising.

  1. When the pandemic hit last spring, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network turned its PurpleStride Walk events into virtual walks. Embracing the slogan “Virtual Is the New Purple,” virtual walkers shared stories and photos and collected donations even though they couldn’t gather in person. The organization pivoted quickly as PurpleStride Austin was the first virtual walk held on March 14, 2020, just as many cities were issuing stay-at-home orders for the first time.
  2. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation proved that even a large gala could be moved to a virtual setting when the organization held its Virtual Symposium and Awards Luncheon in October 2020. Hailed as “a record-breaking success,” the event welcomed leading doctors and major donors from across the country and allowed donors to purchase “virtual tables” to host private discussions with researchers.
  3. Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which supports families of children with cancer and funds cancer research, is encouraging supporters to host virtual lemonade stands on social media. The organization also offers a number of ideas for virtual cancer fundraisers, including Twitch fundraisers for gamers, a Lemon Face Challenge with photos of people biting lemons, and virtual watch parties that allow people to watch a movie together from any location.
  4. St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which works with pediatric oncologists to fund the most promising research to help children with cancer, moved its head-shaving events to a virtual format because of the pandemic. Head shaving is used to raise money and spread awareness each time participants show off their bald head. Today, there are in-person and virtual events, and you can even have an at-home head-shaving party.
  5. The Pink Fund is recruiting people with any talent, including fitness, singing, dancing, baking, sewing, and more, to host virtual events and Facebook fundraisers to help patients with breast cancer. The Pink Fund also created the #GiveRealHelpNow hashtag to promote these events on social media. Keep in mind that Facebook does not deduct fees for donations made through the platform, so all money that is raised goes to the nonprofit!

Virtual events will continue to be critical to achieving fundraising goals for cancer organizations and cancer advocacy groups in 2021. Use these ideas as inspiration and plan events that will resonate with your core supporters and fund your mission!

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