Going Virtual Is Not Enough

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by Shana Masterson

In-person peer-to-peer events inarguably were the type of peer-to-peer campaign most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The in-person to virtual paradigm of the spring was very reactive in nature, propelled by uncertainty and fear. We now understand more about the necessary precautions, such as the importance of masks and social distancing. We also know there will be people who will not be comfortable returning to public gatherings for some time.

The most pervasive in-person campaign is the traditional walk, where participants raise money and walk a predetermined distance. These events attract participation from a broad-based audience without an implicit need to be athletic. Most people don’t attend a walk because they love walking; they attend because they love the cause, the organization or the person who invited them. The walk is not the draw; the community is the draw. Participants not only raise funds for the causes they care about, but they are empowered to spread awareness and fundraising, and be recognized for their achievements.

By removing the ability to have an actual walk, we lose the pinnacle of event season. In reimagining walks, we must take care to harness the feelings of empowerment, of recognition and of community all season long.

Though it may have worked as a reactionary measure in the spring, a livestream alone will not be enough to deliver that collective memorable experience, especially for those who feel ready to participate in a socially distant way.

Moving Beyond Virtual: The Reimagined Walk Hybrid

The key to driving engagement is giving participants the freedom to choose their level of involvement and — this is just as important — providing them with tools, ideas and the recognition necessary to fuel their motivation. Reimagined events should have two, or even three, of the below activities as part of their new experience:

  • Organizationally driven on-the-ground activities. As other industries adopt social distancing and mask protocols (think restaurants and daycares), so, too, can traditional walks. The key is to find other ways to gather safely, be it a series of smaller gatherings, or something participants can do publicly on their own time. What was once a walk may now become a moving monument, a participant or honor wall, or a series of socially distant strolls.
  • Community driven on-the-ground activities. When the full walk community can’t physically gather on event day, smaller communities can make the movement stronger. In neighborhoods where birthday parades, bear hunts and makeshift graduation ceremonies have been commonplace, the creation of neighborhood gatherings is a fun and appropriate choice for socially distant events. This doesn’t simply mean that a family walks through their neighborhood, but it encourages them to involve the neighbors as well.
  • Virtually-driven activities. For those who are hesitant to take part in the on-the-ground components of the event, strong virtual experiences are necessary, albeit bolstered by one or both of the aforementioned activities.

Here’s one example of what is possible with the reimagined event hybrid…

Autism Speaks Walk on Wheels

In reimagining its traditional walk event, its innovative staff is offering participants one safe organizationally driven activity and two community-driven options:

  • Option No. 1: “The Walk on Wheels” is an organized interactive car parade and festival driven by kindness. Inspired by the car parades that have brought joy to so many during these times of social distancing, we are offering this option to convene our community, while safely spread apart, as we hit the road to celebrate together. Some events are seeing significant demand and as a result have required RSVPs and car-based fundraising minimums.
  • Option No. 2: “Bring Walk Home encourages participants” to walk 1.54 miles with your friends and family (for the 1 in 54 kids with autism in the U.S.) or to get together with their team to celebrate locally while maintaining safe social distancing recommendations.
  • Option No. 3: “Walk to the Beat of Your Own Drum” inspires participants to get their creative wheels turning with ideas like a neighborhood car parade, community scavenger hunt, sidewalk chalk art installation or online Bingo.

The necessary imagining of peer-to-peer events will ultimately be the jolt this traditional fundraising sector was craving. It will allow staff and volunteers to get creative and take risks.

The year 2020 will be remembered for many things, and among them, it will be the year that changed the traditional peer-to-peer fundraising event. By granting yourself and your staff permission to truly reimagine your event, you will breathe new life into your events, your communities and, in the long run, your mission.

Editor’s Note: This Techtalk column was originally published in the September/October 2020 print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to subscribe.

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