3 Innovative Nonprofits Share 2020 Peer-to-Peer Program of the Year Award

The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum is honoring three nonprofits that overcame long odds to host successful fundraising campaigns in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic as its Programs of the Year.

This year’s honorees include:

  • The Terry Fox Foundation, which continued to tell the story of its namesake founder and stayed true to its values, even when the pandemic disrupted its plans for 950 community runs across Canada last September. In the face of incredible disruption, the Terry Fox Virtual Run raised nearly $8 million in 2020 – just 3% less than it raised in 2019.
  • The ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter, which blended old-school tactics and new-age approaches to encourage supporters to host their own neighborhood “Mini Walks.” The program raised more than $460,000 and its model has been incorporated by numerous ALSA chapters across the U.S.
  • The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which shifted messaging around its annual Jimmy Fund Walk from its traditional Boston Marathon course setting to emphasizing mission when supporters had to shift to walking in their communities. The campaign used technology to create a virtual concept for the event, which drew walkers in all 50 states who raised more than $6.3 million. It is now moving ahead with a 2021 version of the Jimmy Fund: Walk Your Way program.

“Traditionally, we honor one nonprofit for their accomplishments in peer-to-peer fundraising. But during this extremely unusual year, we felt it would be more fitting to honor multiple organizations that served as beacons and showed that it was still possible to achieve their missions in the face of adversity,” said David Hessekiel, founder and president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. “Each of these innovative organizations showed remarkable resilience and are helping shape a new reality for peer-to-peer fundraising.”

In peer-to-peer fundraising, a nonprofit’s supporters reach out to their friends, family and colleagues for donations often in connection with an activity such as a walk or ride. In normal times, these campaigns raise billions for nonprofits each year across North America.

COVID-19 created massive disruptions for nonprofits that manage peer-to-peer fundraising activities in 2020. Most in-person fundraising events were canceled as a result of the pandemic – and many nonprofits faced the prospect of massive revenue losses as a result.

These disruptions are likely to continue throughout much of 2021. But many nonprofits that manage peer-to-peer programs are looking to examples of successful 2020 campaigns to help the chart a path forward.

Each of the Program of the Year winners offers such inspiration.

The Terry Fox Foundation

The Terry Fox Foundation is an example of how a national nonprofit can achieve success at a large scale by creating an easy-to-understand virtual fundraising concept that centered on consistent, mission-focused messaging.

The organization funds cancer research through peer-to-peer fundraising events inspired by the late Terry Fox, who embarked on a journey to run across Canada after losing his leg to cancer.

“We kept true to Terry’s values and didn’t change just because we were facing special circumstances,” said Ara Sahakian, the foundation’s interim executive director. “We communicated Terry’s story earlier and more frequently than ever, sharing inspiration and hope, motivating people to #Tryliketerry.”

ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter

The ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter offers a powerful example for local nonprofits and chapters. The chapter, which plays host to an annual spring fundraising walk, moved quickly to transform its walk into a series of virtual neighborhood events.

In early June, supporters walked in their own communities — and in many cases, they were greeted by neighbors who came outside to cheer them on, prompted by signs, door hangers, and other materials that were provided to walkers through “superhero supply boxes.” The supply-box concept has since been replicated by ALS chapters in other communities — and by charities across the U.S.

“I’m so honored that others have learned from our successes and our challenges,” said Kendra Albers, director of development for the ALS Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter. “One of the things that makes peer-to-peer fundraising is the spirt of sharing and cooperation across our field.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

For more than 30 years, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has used the venerable Boston Marathon route as a magnet to help attract fundraisers for its Jimmy Fund Walk. When the pandemic made it impossible for organizers to use the marathon route, they offered supporters the chance to walk their own virtual course instead.

In addition to using fitness tracking technology to help participants log their progress, they found ways to recreate key elements of the in-person event in a virtual setting – including the creation of a virtual ribbon display that allowed fundraisers to show why they’re walking and a venue for supporters to meet the “walk heroes” who traditionally line the marathon course during the walk.

“We wanted to do everything we could to make the virtual experience into something special,” said Zachary Blackburn, assistant VP of the Jimmy Fund Walk. “We told ourselves that if we strive to create the gold standard for a live event experience, we needed to be the gold standard for a virtual event.”

The winners will be honored at the annual Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Conference, which will be held virtually March 1 to 3.

“All three of these programs found success during a difficult year because they stayed true to who they are. They trusted their relationships with their participants, they made decisions early and stuck with them and they went back to the basics of communication and stewardship,” said Matt Glass, partner and chief creative officer for Eventage, which sponsors the award. “We’re incredibly inspired by what they have accomplished and look forward to celebrating each of them in March.”

Editor’s Note: This press release was provided by a company unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO and its staff.

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