Virtual P2P fundraising event - what is it, how do they work and should we do one?

Jesper Juul Jensen
Min to read

Virtual events are a very attractive fundraising channel, with a low financial risk and the ability to test and iterate fast. With the Covid-19 pandemic it has become an essential tool for any fundraisers working within P2P fundraising and event fundraising.    

This blog post is based on a webinar we recently did. You can find a recording of the webinar at the end of this blog post. This is the first post in a three-part series on virtual events, and you can find part two and part three here.  

In this post we will cover some of the most basic questions on virtual P2P fundraising events to help get you started:

  • What a virtual event is, and what types of activities can be the center for one
  • How you come up with a concept that fits your organisation and supporter base
  • What benefits and downsides there are to virtual events compared to physical events

What is a virtual P2P fundraising event?

Our definition of a virtual event is an event where there is no centrally organised physical event. Participants can both participate in the event on their own, or self organised in small groups. It is a time limited campaign, so we differentiate it from all-year fundraising activities such as DIY fundraising.  

In addition, we see very few multi-charity virtual events. Where many sports events might have several charity partners, this isn’t the case with virtual events. That might be because of the lack of a unifying physical activity or event. Therefore having just one charity at the center helps unify the event and create a community feeling.

A virtual event typology

We will attempt to classify virtual P2P fundraising events according to some general types.  

Traditionally virtual events have mainly been found among sports events. However we have seen many more non-sports virtual events lately, and we expect this trend to continue. We will here classify the activity by how much physical activity it requires.  

The other dimension we will classify virtual events by is whether they are done individually or in small groups. This is especially useful as it indicates how much a virtual event requires people to meet physically (which, as we all know, is a big no go during this coronavirus pandemic).  

Below is our suggested categorising of virtual events based on the activity involved.  

Virtual event typology

We have all the individual sports activities such as running, biking and crossfit and we those that often tend to be more social, such as walks. We have non-sports events such as abstaining from alcohol or sugar (very individual challenges) or meeting for dinner or breakfast privately in small groups.  

In addition to this we have events such as the 2.6 Challenge which spans basically all the activities above and are very open-ended in their concept.

Examples of virtual P2P fundraising events

Strong Woman Challenge

Category: Individual sport event

Charity: ActionAid Sweden  

Individuals challenged themself to a crossfit challenge. They received instructions every day by email for 10 days, made by an ambassador to ActionAid Sweden. This is both a way to brand ActionAid, which is fairly new in Sweden, and a way to recruit new donors.  

You Go Girl

Category: Group sport event

Charity: Danish MS Society  

Team leaders arranged their own walks in their neighbourhood, with anything from 3 to 100 participants in each walk. Participants donate to participate and also fundraise.  

MS Dinner

Category: Group non-sport event

Charity: Danish MS Society  

Participants organise their own dinner for 6 friends, and the Danish MS Society helps with the rest. A corporate sponsor provides the ingredients, and you are supplied with recipes, menu cards and other helpful material. Those lucky enough to be invited will reply with a donation.  


Category: Individual non-sport event

Charity: The swedish prostate cancer association.  

The swedish and much modified version of Movember. This campaign centers around the blue moustache and men all over Sweden growing a moustache. Attracts a high number of corporate teams, all growing their own moustaches.

When you should consider virtual events and when you shouldn't

There are of course both downsides and benefits to doing a virtual event. During a pandemic we don’t have much choice, but virtual events will keep being relevant after. This information can help you figure out when a virtual event is right for you.

The downsides to virtual P2P events

  • No ticketing income. We are not ruling out the possibility of charging a price for your virtual event, especially if you have a cool unique medal or other swag as part of it, but it will be more difficult. If you are used to earning a profit already on event sign-up, then this will be a downside. Furthermore there will be few opportunities to earn on selling drinks/food during the event - for obvious reasons.
  • No physical interaction. Probably the main downside is that you and your volunteers won’t interact with supporters in a real physical space. Physical events are a great opportunity to build real human relations with your supporters.
  • Lower average fundraised per participant. We see a lower average fundraised for virtual events. Thus you need more participants to reach the same donation volume.
  • Lower activation rate of participant to fundraiser. One strong driver of the lower average fundraise per participant is due to a lower activation rate. Not having a real physical event will result in fewer participants actually fundraising, often because they don't actually participate/engage in the event.

The benefits of virtual P2P events

  • Accessible to everyone. Virtual events can be designed to allow for high levels of inclusion. Anyone, no matter their physical capabilities and ages will be able to participate in events such as the 2.6 challenge. Everyone can find a concept that allows them to participate. This allows you to recruit from a much broader target group and might even lower recruitment costs.
  • No geographical barriers. No matter where a suporter lives, they can join in a virtual event. This is especially important if you are a small organisation with a widely distributed supporter and membership base.
  • Lower financial risk. Physical events can involve rather large investment developments, deposits and other costs involved in the planning of the actual event. A virtual event cuts all this away and only leaves you with the digital costs (marketing, website, communication, advertising). These can of course still be substantial.
  • Scales quickly and easily. Physical events can have limitations in terms of the number of participants. Obstacle courses are a good example of an event that often has a strict maximum number of possible participants. Virtual events scale very easily, with almost no limitation, and the marginal cost of adding an attendee is much lower.
  • Works during a lockdown. During a lockdown due to pandemics, such as Covid-19,pandemic virtual events might be your only option, as restrictions on mass gatherings are in place.

What event concept is the right one for you?

Before you start figuring out what the concept for your virtual event should be, first determine your goal. Essentially, figure out if you will be aiming for engaging your existing supporters or if you want to recruit supporters with little or no previous relationships with you.

Should the activity fit your cause / explain what you do?

So should your event be generic or have a tight relationship to your cause? If you aim to target your existing supporter base, you can (hopefully) assume that your existing supporter base finds your cause compelling, and has some knowledge about the work you do. Thus the activity of the virtual event does not in itself need to explain your cause or have a close connection to it, as communicating what you do isn’t the most important part of the event.  

On the other hand, if you target a group of new supporters, you will probably aim to convert these supporters into supporters afterwards. Thus communicating what you do will be especially important here, and having the event do some of the work itself will work wonders. Examples of these types of events could be Operation Blethcly or Miles for Refugees.

Should the activity/concept aim for a broad or narrow segment?

If you aim for your existing supporters, then our guess is that your concept should aim fairly broad, unless you existing supporters are a very tightly defined group of people. If you target new supporters, you have more freedom. An event that can embrace a broad group of people will have the obvious advantage of being able to attract a larger group of participants. However a tightly defined unique concept might have lower recruiting cost, because you can narrow down your target group. So definitely worth considering going for a specific group/community of potential supporters.  

No matter what, the activity and concept is very important. No matter if they are existing or new supporters, they need to buy into the activity first and foremost. They can learn to get excited about your cause later in the event.

Next steps

We hope that you have found the above information useful. If you have decided that a virtual P2P fundraising event is the right choice for you, we recommend that you continue reading how to set up your virtual event and how to go about recruiting fundraisers.  

Blog series: Virtual events

  1. Virtual P2P fundraising event – what is it, how do they work and should we do one?
  3. How to set up a virtual P2P fundraising event and recruit fundraisers
  5. How to engage participants in your virtual P2P fundraising event?
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