The Future of Events

The pandemic has had a huge impact on fundraising and charitable activities but one area that has been more heavily impacted is Events Fundraising. Massive’s Top 25 report showed that income from the top 25 mass participation events alone dropped from £143M in 2019 to £74.6M in 2020.  

With the sudden cancellation and postponement of physical fundraising events such as London Marathon in the spring of 2020, organisations had to quickly pivot, innovate and make tough decisions around resourcing and staffing. As restrictions have eased over recent months, event managers and fundraisers are faced with an ever-growing list of questions. Primary among them – what’s the plan from here? 

Pivoting to virtual events

With the removal of physical mass participation events, many charities have had to pivot their existing challenges into a virtual format. Virtual events were already on the rise before the pandemic with headline events such as My Marathon (British Heart Foundation) and Walk All Over Cancer (Cancer Research UK). The pandemic put the foot on the accelerator for many organisations to jump on this trend with a wave of new virtual propositions entering the market or attracting more marketing spend in 2020. For example, the 2.6 Challenge in April 2020, raised over £11M for charities across the UK alone.  

However, the role that virtual events will play within an organisation’s overall portfolio will be a question that will need to be continually reviewed over the coming months and years. Virtual events tend to reach a different type of supporter and the level of competition within the market means that targeting the right audience will be more important than ever. The expectations of virtual event participants have also changed over the past 18 months, with many expecting faster answers to questions, a more personalised supporter journey and elements of physical events such as medals which will increase costs. There is no doubt that virtual events are here to stay but in what guise will be down to each team and organisation.  

Physical events themselves are still far from normal

Mass participation events are likely to need to put in place adaptations to ensure that staff, participants and volunteers feel safe at the event. In some cases, this involves multiple versions of event plans with varying levels of restrictions built in. There are also additional considerations such as costs and logistics elements such as hand sanitising stations, the removal of water stations and changes to routes to reduce congestion. All of these will need to be considered into the future, with many asking which elements should be retained.  

Impacting the Events team

Finally, an important aspect to bear in mind is the impact that the pandemic has had on Events teams across the sector. Many Events teams will have experienced furlough and redundancy, leaving them with less resource than pre-pandemic. For those that remained, burnout is a real concern as they have been busier than ever; many will have been managing higher volumes of supporter queries, adapting plans at the last moment and reacting to cancellations with limited information from third party organisers. The resilience of these teams is not to be underestimated and while many are exhausted, the members of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s Event Roundtables are more motivated than ever to create unique, personalised, and memorable experiences for their supporters.  

As we step into the ‘new normal’, event managers will need to ask many questions of themselves, their teams and their supporters. There is no doubt that there will be irreversible changes to not only portfolios for each organisation, but the logistics, planning and marketing of events that are returning.