Every year, the Cleveland Clinic hosts their annual VeloSano cycling event. This massive undertaking draws over 2,000 riders and 1,000 volunteers to come out for a single weekend in July. In 2019, they attracted over 28,000 total donations that totaled over $4.7 million for cancer research.
Despite the fact that the event itself typically happens on one weekend, the logistics and operations are happening year-round for the VeloSano team:
- Registration opens in early January
- The event takes place the third weekend in July
- Fundraising for VeloSano runs almost year-round, until October 1
- Mid-November brings the VeloSano bash, wherein they reveal how much was raised
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the team’s well-oiled plans for 2020. But the VeloSano team quickly came up with solutions to go virtual, and their 2020 Virtual VeloSano event raised an incredible $3,002,768 from 18,000 total donations. Below, we’ll show you what they did and how they were successful.
From Virtual Component to Fully Virtual
Since the beginning of the VeloSano event, there has always been a virtual participation component for people who couldn’t be at the event in-person. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the team to elevate and enhance this component to be sustainable for years to come, as it wasn’t an option for them to postpone and they could then be prepared for any future circumstances that would come their way.
The key to success was to clearly define what it meant to be involved virtually, the impact someone could make, and explicit instructions for how they could peer-to-peer fundraise.
To start, they updated the VeloSano home page site navigation with a new tab labeled “Get Involved,” which explained everything about virtual VeloSano and what to expect. They also made all of their primary calls to action “no fundraising minimum” or “no registration fee.”
The fundraising commitment or minimum had presented an obstacle for some participants in years prior, but removing that gate allowed the team to introduce new people to VeloSano.
Getting rid of fundraising minimums was a double-edged sword because while participation and engagement increased, fundraising dollars decreased. The team anticipated this outcome, however, and they found that the increased participation was worth it since it brought entirely new audiences to the event.
Consider how your organization might offer virtual participants the option to join for free in order to attract new supporters and broaden your donor pool.
Design a Positive Virtual Event Experience
With a virtual event that’s open to all, as the VeloSano team saw, your nonprofit will attract potentially more participants than previous in-person events. You get the opportunity to nurture lasting relationships with those supporters and bring them back campaign after campaign.
However, to retain their support, you must design a fluid and positive event experience for them. For VeloSano, the team presented many virtual resources to help deepen the connection between participants and the virtual event. They offered:
- The ability for participants to track their ride progress on the Strava app
- Virtual fundraising tips to help fundraisers nail their personal fundraising pages
- A PDF with all the relevant virtual event details for the weekend
- An invitation for all participants to attend a virtual kickoff party that was livestreamed
- Post-event impact reports
The VeloSano team also got creative with an engaging matching fund, “Spark Your Fundraising.” Typically, corporate partners cover the operational expenses for the event, so they pooled donations from them into a match.
These marketing touch points are crucial to keep participants engaged throughout the course of the event, especially when it’s virtual. Send fundraising resources, creative videos, organize social media campaigns, or hyper-segment your email lists for maximum engagement. No matter what you choose to do, keep the primary goal in mind of creating a positive, fun, and supportive experience for anyone who wants to participate in your virtual event.
Meet Virtual Participants on Their Turf
To engage their audience, the VeloSano team used Classy for Facebook to run their Facebook fundraising. This was important for them because the integration allowed their fundraisers to duplicate their personal fundraising page on Classy into a Facebook fundraiser, which helped to evangelize the event.
In the past, the team’s Facebook fundraising strategy wasn’t very robust. However, after implementing Classy for Facebook they saw an increase in fundraisers using the integration. As a result, the team promoted this tool widely to VeloSano participants who created personal fundraising pages, and each one of them received a special email with instructions for how to use Classy for Facebook.
Additionally, the team wrote a concise and informative blog post detailing everything a participant needed to know about connecting their VeloSano personal fundraising page to Facebook.
The team used to manually reconcile all Facebook fundraising totals, but now with Classy for Facebook, the functionality of the integration made for a much easier, smooth reconciliation experience.
With their use of Classy for Facebook, VeloSano was able to supplement their fundraising total of $3,002,768 with $33,010 coming directly from Facebook donations.
Go Virtual Like VeloSano
As your nonprofit looks to either create new virtual fundraising events or implement an evergreen virtual component to your events, do your best to think ahead to future years. Make sure you’re building a sustainable strategy that is flexible enough to bend with unforeseen circumstances. Make sure to download our free Virtual Events Toolkit for everything you need to create exciting, engaging, and effective virtual events.