Virtual events: using digital to create change, one footprint at a time

Roisin McGovern
Relationship Manager
08 Jun 2021

Despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains the same, people are still looking for ways to connect and support the causes they care about. Events are a great way to bring people together through shared experiences and interests, creating a sense of community for participants, and virtual events have allowed this to continue despite lockdown restrictions.

One organisation that made the leap into virtual events is Footprints 4 Sam, one of Lightful’s BRIDGE participants based in South Africa. Footprints 4 Sam was founded by Melissa and Fred, in honour of their son Sam who spent all 15 months of his short life in hospital. Their mission is to ensure Sam’s bravery lives on through others, bringing light and hope to families going through similar experiences, and renovating key paediatric spaces within government hospitals across South Africa.

Recognising the need to adapt to a more online way of fundraising and find a new way to engage donors during lockdown, Melissa and Fred planned their first-ever virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign: Virtual World Giving series in 2020.

The Footprints 4 Sam World Giving Series is a challenge event where participants are encouraged to exercise and move as much as they can for three months, earning footprints along the way. Every three months a new challenge will begin, with funds going to a different element of the organisation's work. The first series raised over 200,000 rands for the renovation of the Neonatal ICU (NICU) unit at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa!

We were delighted to catch up with Melissa and find out how it went and hear what learnings she will be taking forward into our new digitally-focused future.

What inspired you to try a new virtual approach to fundraising events?

Every year we host our annual charity dinner and that is our major fundraising event. Last year we realised we weren’t going to be able to host it and we needed to look at another vehicle for fundraising.

Why did you choose a challenge event?

When Sam passed away, his dad Fred was really into running and we wanted to do something around Fred’s passion for fitness and so we have always participated in fitness-related fundraising. Sam’s last journey from one hospital to the hospital where he passed away was 21kms, the distance of a half marathon, so running has been a theme in our fundraising!. But with our virtual event, we didn’t want to only focus on running, so we opened it up to over 20 different activities including swimming, walking, gardening, yoga… there really is an activity for everyone!

We looked at a university study of the most common forms of activity and converted the calories burned into footprints. Since the event launched, we have gone twice around the world together in footprints!

This is what Footprints 4 Sam is all about. It’s about laying down your footprint and making a change. This virtual event allows you to have an impact while also helping you exercise, get fit and connect with others. It’s saving lives...you save a child’s life by providing an incubator, by giving them access to oxygen and this is what the donations will support - life-saving medical equipment, services, and the beautiful state of the art, family and child-friendly paediatric spaces.

How did you design the fundraising element of the event?

Our priority was to make the event affordable. It only costs 180 rands to sign up for the three-month challenge. We raise money through the initial participant fee and then any extra donations, as well as companies paying a sponsorship fee to feature their brand on the app during each challenge. Really, these events are building blocks. We thought about how we could attract supporters with a base fee that everyone could afford, and factor in scalability. The more people who take part, the more we can raise.

The long-term thinking was how can we grow awareness of our brand, but at the same time allow people to connect at a time where there is such a lack of connection (and also support people with their health and fitness goals)! We also created ‘Sam Gear’ - running and cycling tops which participants could order off our website - as an additional way to raise awareness.

What digital tools did you use?

We used an app called atlasGO which was brilliant as they work specifically with charities, to bring people together around impact and wellness. It’s really user-friendly and it was great to learn more about the platform and really maximise it to encourage donations and engagement. With atlasGO we could even host mini-challenges within the main challenge, and participants could easily access their information and talk to other members of our community.

How did you promote the event?

I wanted to keep the messaging uniform and also keep it bright and vibrant. I tried to prepare the social media content in advance as much as possible which was really helpful, and then I could add in more reactive content throughout the series. We also created our own hashtag, #F4SamWGS and video along with a lot of branded teaser content to generate excitement and it really got people going.

How will you continue the momentum with participants?

The idea is to build up an element of competition to attract new participants but also retain existing ones. We’ve created a leaderboard to keep the momentum going - nobody likes to break their streak!

How does your virtual series compare to in-person fundraising?

It was a lot of time to plan and get going, but now it is all set up it is a lot easier. We raised more money at our previous in-person dinner event but that also included a higher financial risk as there was the cost of food, drink, venue… We don’t know when in-person events will be a reality again so this virtual event is a more sustainable way to make up for that lost income. Even when the dinners and galas do return, we will continue with our World Giving Series and do both!

What would you say to an organisation thinking about going virtual?

Have courage and don’t hesitate, we have to try new things. A virtual event is so much fun and it can help widen your net by being so much more inclusive.

Congratulations to Melissa and Fred for organising such an inspirational event in Sam’s honour. Are you inspired to get moving and make your footprints matter? Find out how you can get involved here.
At Lightful, we’re honoured to work with such incredible organisations like Footprints 4 Sam who are saving lives and impacting entire communities. Here’s to making the world a better place, one footprint at a time! 👣

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