Challenge Events – Keep calm and carry on

Fundraising challenge events can provide a means of engaging participants while raising vital funds.  In this article we take a closer look at how we might consider adjusting our approach to challenge event fundraising during difficult economic times.

With the costs of everyday living on the increase and interest rates set to stay high, we are deep into a cost-of-living crisis which is having a significant impact on charities and fundraisers, the people they support and the vital services they provide. Many charities are left wondering how they will meet increasing demands (at increasing costs) when so many people are struggling financially, and how they can continue to fundraise successfully to help meet those needs.

In turn, the economic situation is impacting events that charities include in their fundraising plan, the funds from which they rely upon. Getting people to take part in fundraising challenge events has become increasingly difficult as these types of events may be a stretch too far for personal budgets. At the same time, more people are feeling reluctant or embarrassed about asking friends and family for donations.

Fundraising challenge events can still provide a great means of engaging participants while raising money, and crucially, awareness for good causes.

Stay strong and prosper

However – and here’s the positive bit – fundraising challenge events can still provide a great means of engaging participants while raising money, and crucially, awareness for good causes. These events not only bring attention to the issues faced by individuals during challenging economic times but also encourage people to come together to do something positive. And if we can keep our event costs down, registration fees affordable and minimum fundraising targets achievable, there is no reason we should not be able to provide enjoyable, accessible, and successful events. While for an event like the London Marathon or an international challenge, where costs are high and we need to set proportionate registration fees and fundraising targets, there will always be opportunities to organise local community challenge events – walks, runs, treks, cycles, swimathons – where costs can be kept down with affordable registration fees and fundraising targets to match. Think of 100 people doing a charity walk, each generating a minimum of £100, there’s £10,000 before we factor in all those that raise above the minimum. Plus registration fees… plus Gift Aid… plus sponsorship!

Pulling in a few corporate gifts can help cover all of your event costs.

Corporate support – it’s not all about the money

Securing corporate sponsorship for your event is often easier said than done but do make approaches, initially via warm contacts and past corporate donors if you are lucky enough to have any! Your trustees, patrons and major donors may have connections and be willing to open doors for you. For an event like the local charity walk mentioned above, pulling in a few corporate gifts can help cover all of your event costs. It’s always nice to be able to advise participants and donors that ALL costs are covered, and, therefore, ALL proceeds will go to the charity!

If local businesses are not able to sponsor your event directly, encourage them to participate. Many companies nowadays are registered for Matched Giving (also known as Match Funding) which gives their employees the chance to boost their fundraising with additional matched funds donated by the employer. Some companies offer this on a pound-for-pound basis, while others will specify the amount they are prepared to give. Promote a ‘team bonding’ element to corporate teams too, these events provide a great opportunity for staff to spend some fun time together away from the office. Ask your corporates to help promote the event to their own audiences.

If you are not able to secure any financial sponsorship, why not try for some ‘In kind’ sponsorship? Again, using the walk event as an example, you are likely to incur costs for t-shirts, venue hire, refreshments, branded materials, medals and so on. Try to get some of these items donated; supermarkets may give you vouchers to spend in store, £100 or less will cover all refreshment costs for an event for 100 people! If you don’t ask…!

Other types of challenge events

As well as (or instead of) staging your own challenge events, consider signing up for some bigger 3rd party events. Charity places can be purchased in popular annual events like the Royal Parks Half Marathon and the London to Brighton Cycle at reasonable rates and the only additional costs you are likely to incur are for a branded running/cycle top or t-shirt and some refreshments at the meet and the greet. ALWAYS meet and greet your 3rd party event participants by the way! And the added beauty of 3rd party challenge events is that you don’t have to organise them! Your time can be spent on looking after your participants, supporting their fundraising, and ensuring they have a great experience supporting your charity. That way they’ll want to tell everyone all about it afterwards!

Another option might be DIY challenges. Encourage your supporters to devise their own creative fundraising challenges or secure their own place in existing events. The options are endless, a local 5k run or Everest Base Camp, a 1-mile swim in the local pool or the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara! If you’re very lucky, you will find challengers who are willing to cover their own costs, no matter what event they are doing or where they are doing it.

If you’re looking for something a bit more niche, organise a Dance Marathon – a non-stop dance event where participants seek donations to stay on their feet for a specified period, like 12 or 24 hours. Or an Outdoor Adventure Challenge – one that combines various outdoor activities like canoeing, rock climbing, and zip-lining, and encourage participants to fundraise for each activity they complete, or a Dog Walk-a-Thon – invite pet owners to join a sponsored dog walking event. Make sure your venue welcomes the idea first though!

Excellent stewardship, nurturing current, recent and former challenge event participants is more important than ever right now.

Stewardship – look after your supporters

Excellent stewardship, nurturing current, recent and former challenge event participants is more important than ever right now. Treat them well from sign up to post event. Answer their queries in a timely manner and thank them appropriately along the way. You may be interested in watching our ‘Fundraising is Friend-raising’ webinar on this topic. If your past participants are not able to take part themselves right now, can they help by reaching out to their own networks for participants and sponsors?

Fail to plan you know the rest!

The success of any charity challenge event relies on proper planning, promotion, and engagement with all relevant audiences. Clearly communicate the purpose of the event; where the funds will be utilised, and how it will make a positive impact to beneficiaries. Here are a few tips:

  • Start planning well in advance to give yourself enough time for promotion and logistics. Create a detailed event timeline, budget, and identify potential challenges.
  • Set specific objectives – Establish achievable and specific fundraising goals for your event. Having clear targets will motivate participants and donors to contribute.
  • Engage your community – Leverage social media, email newsletters, and other platforms to engage your existing and potential donors. Share compelling case studies, images, and videos that highlight the impact of your fundraisers’ efforts.
  • Utilise peer-to-peer fundraising – Encourage participants to invite their friends, family, and colleagues to support the cause either by donating or signing up for the event themselves.
  • Consider offering incentives or rewards to participants, donors, and sponsors. It could be as simple as an acknowledgment on social media or website or providing small prizes for top fundraisers.
  • Provide regular updates – Keep participants and donors informed about the progress of the event and how their contributions are making a difference. Transparency builds trust and encourages continued support.
  • Express gratitude – Show genuine appreciation to all participants and donors. A simple thank-you message can go a long way in building relationships and encouraging future involvement.
  • Incorporate storytelling – Share impactful stories of individuals who have benefited from past fundraising efforts. Emotional connections can inspire others to get involved and contribute.
  • Follow up after the event – Don’t forget to follow up with participants and key donors and sponsors after the event. Share the final results and outcomes to celebrate their collective achievement.

Maximise fundraising income

And finally, a few top tips for your participants once you have them signed up to ensure they maximise their fundraising:

  • Start your fundraising as soon as you can and give your supporters plenty of time to donate.
  • Set up an online fundraising page with whichever giving platform you decide to use.
  • Fundraisers with pictures or videos on their page raise more. A perfect excuse for a selfie!
  • Writing a story on your fundraising page helps your supporters understand why you’re fundraising. Whether it’s a personal connection or support for the cause, a personal ask and heart-felt explanation can go a long way.
  • Pages with a fundraising target raise more. Aim high and if you hit your target ahead of event day, don’t be afraid to increase it!
  • You are doing something amazing, so don’t be afraid to use social media to spread the word about your challenge. Sharing your page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp will help you raise more.
  • Let supporters know how you are doing by updating your page often, they will enjoy following your progress.
  • An obvious one, but a simple ‘Thank You’ goes a long way and lets your amazing supporters know that their donation is valued, no matter how big it is. Whether it’s in person, a text, or an online message, it can make a huge difference to your fundraising support both now, and in the future.
  • People who donate to their own page to get it started raise a lot more!
  • 20% of donations come in after the event, so when you’ve completed the challenge, make sure you post pictures on your fundraising page and share an update with potential donors. Seeing your achievements will help remind people to donate to the great cause you are supporting.

None of us can be in any doubt that these are testing times for charities and the events they provide for their supporters. But we fundraisers are a resilient bunch and with the right planning, dedication, sense of community and execution, there is no reason we can’t still put on successful, enjoyable, and impactful challenge events. Good luck out there!

Ian Tate Headshot

Author – Ian Tate

Fundraising consultant, Benefact Group

Ian is an independent fundraising consultant and freelancer with over 30 years’ experience in the charity sector, representing a range of local and national charities.