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5 digital swap outs to replace your cancelled fundraising events

56% of donors regularly attend fundraising events. But many charities are now cancelling these events due to distancing guidelines and are accepting the loss in income. But you don’t have to. You can let these events run - and even plan additional events - if you get creative. It makes sense. If you’ve already done the legwork running up to the event, why waste the work?

By Matt Haworth · June 10, 2020

Instead, use the momentum you already have to do something different. But what?

Here are five examples of digital swap-outs you can do to turn the events you might have cancelled into raised funds for your charity…

Virtual festivals

Whether you finally secured a ticket to Glastonbury or you’re left devastated by your favourite musician having to cancel a tour, the lack of music events has been a loss for many people. But all is not lost. In response, we’re seeing more and more virtual festivals or live-streaming gigs pop up on social media. Some of these are being run by charities as they offer a brilliant opportunity to do some fundraising and generate some brand engagement, potentially even with a new audience.

For the awesome charity Mermaids UK – who support gender-diverse young people – a lot of their promotional activity centres around Pride events happening all over the UK. Obviously, these have all been cancelled. But instead of throwing away their plans, they reworked them. They reached out to the guests who were going to speak or appear at their events and asked for their support in creating a virtual festival. Many people due to speak agreed to do it online instead and many new ones did too.

The result was #Digifest2020, which used streaming platform Twitch to stream a day of support, special guests, fabulous acts, and some much-needed escapism. The event raised over £14,000 for the charity. Some real virtual event inspiration, right there!

Active events

For the first time in its history, the London Marathon was cancelled this year. But while we can’t get people together for big group runs, bike rides, or walks, people are doing more exercise than ever in lockdown. In the UK, 32.1% of people are getting more exercise than before – an extra two hours on average – and 43.3% are using online workouts to keep fit. And as people embrace exercise more, they are looking for challenges that make them feel good.

With this in mind, several charities are holding virtual races or endurance challenges.

Sometimes these happen on the same day, with everyone running their own race. Others have made it more flexible, with target distances over a week or month-long period. Either way, it’s bringing the spirit of a mass race or endurance challenge to people virtually.

Funds are raised in the usual ways: asking participants to set up a sponsorship page for friends, family, and social media followers to donate to; or charging an entry fee for participation in the event; or both.

The NSPCC has embraced this idea. They’ve set up Ride300 and Run30 to raise money from keen cyclists and runners. Participants donate £100 to cycle 300K over a 30-day period or £30 to run 30K, in the process ensuring that the NSPCC can keep protecting children across the UK.

Gaming marathons

If running marathons isn’t your supporters’ thing, perhaps a gaming marathon might be! Extended periods of time at home mean that even the non-gamers are dipping their toes in the gaming pool. We’ve all heard the buzz surrounding Nintendo Switch and Animal Crossing during lockdown. So why not make the most of what many people are already doing and host a virtual gaming marathon in honour of your charity?

Macmillan Game Heroes has done exactly this. They’ve encouraged their audience to take part in sponsored gaming marathons to raise money for those living with cancer. The idea is that people sign up to do a marathon of up to 24 hours on game streaming platform Twitch (we broke Twitch down here if you’re unsure), get a fundraising page, and ask for sponsorship from friends and family. At the time of writing this, they’ve raised almost £400,000 for Macmillan in this year’s campaign alone.

If you’re a smaller organisation, and sceptical of how effective Twitch can be for you, we get it. But, this need not be super complex, and Twitch is definitely not just for the larger organisations. In fact, as a charity, you don’t even have to have a Twitch account to gather funds this way. Instead, it’s about empowering and asking your supporters to lead the way for you. You never know, one of your ambassadors or key supporters may be into gaming and looking for a way to help. Find out more about this here.


There’s a reason everyone and their dog seems to be able to name the longest river in Germany at the drop of a hat. Virtual quizzes have taken over our lives. They’re fun, free, and a great way to get together with the people you care about, removing the occasional awkwardness of not knowing who should speak next or whether you’ll ever get to tell them about that banana bread you baked. Besides, who doesn’t love the friendly competition of a pub quiz?

Why not jump on that train and host your own quiz and raise some funds? Virtual quizzes are a fantastic way to keep your audience and corporate supporters engaged by making a current trend work for you. Maybe you could even theme one of your rounds around your cause?

Virtual quizzes are simple enough to host on a large-scale. An amazing example is a Friends quiz that raised more than £140k. All it needed was someone wearing a turkey hat (if you know, you know) reading some questions out on YouTube. Just make sure you provide a link to donate to your charity so you don’t miss out on the goodwill of participants. These types of activities, which may be new to your charity, can also help your audience snowball into something much bigger.

Another example we’ve seen is a Nottingham pub called the Trent Navigation. They didn’t want to stop their popular Sunday night quiz, so they improvised. They moved it over to Facebook and by hosting one pub quiz, on one Sunday evening, they raised £354 for a local hospice. And now, by popular demand, they’re doing it every week. How many local businesses would host a virtual quiz for you if you supported them to do it? It helps you raise funds whilst helping them keep their customer based engaged with their brand during lockdown.

Re-engaging your event sponsors

It’s likely that you had one or more companies lined up to sponsor and support the events you’ve had to postpone or cancel. But now that in-person events can’t go ahead, could you refocus that corporate partnership? Many charities are finding success in asking for corporate supporters to still honour their pledge, but in alternative ways. This could be a one-off donation, selling products with a built-in donation to your charity, or just offering their help marketing you on their social media pages.

It’s the perfect time to make the most of the relationships your organisation has and draw on support from your connections to keep your momentum going. For example, The Trevor Project is partnering with Kiehl’s – owners of L’Oréal – for Pride this month. They’ve made an amazing donation of $100,000 to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation.

It’s not just companies, too. Celebrity supporters could also help you keep raising funds.  One example is Michael McIntyre and The Trussell Trust – the UK’s largest food bank charity. In April, fans made donations to a GoFundMe page in exchange for a chance to win a personal call from Michael. He video called as many fans as possible to raise money and lift spirits during the lockdown. In total, The Trussell Trust raised over £58,000 from the competition.

We hope you’ve taken some inspiration from these examples and are feeling motivated to get creative and keep your fundraising events going during the lockdown. Even if your virtual events don’t raise as much money as their in-person alternatives might have, you’re still maintaining relationships and keeping your audience engaged and ready for when they return.

Who knows, your event may spread across social media and give your charity an even bigger audience than before… ready to sign up to fundraising events next year!