When I think back, a huge number of my early run-ins with charity were from sporting or social events. I sponsored a marathon runner, a friend walking up Kilimanjaro, at university a friend of mine was behind the annual music festival MacmillanFest, and I performed at a concert in aid of and NHS Charity as a teenager – just to name a few examples. These are all great memories of collaboration and fun that did a lot to frame my early perceptions of the charity sector in an exciting and supportive light. There’s just something about a bake sale that helps a young boy with limited pocket money really embrace a cause!
I’m not unique in having events like this be my true introduction to charity fundraising. These events have long been a crucial means of support for non-profits worldwide. They not only allow organizations to raise vital funds, but also foster a sense of community among participants which undoubtedly benefits charity brands in the long-term.
However, our latest research shows that the landscape for these events has shifted in recent years. We’ve found significant fluctuations in the engagement, organisation, and sponsorship levels that could be expected from year to year, which is why this week we’re answering the question: what’s changing about fundraising events?
How people more involved (for a while)
In 2020 and 2021 you might have had a little more time on your hands than usual. As the pandemic brought about unprecedented changes, people around the globe found themselves connected by common experiences and a collective desire to make a difference. Partner this with a rapt nationwide audience looking to distract themselves with viral challenges and sponsored feats, and you have a recipe for thousands of people to host their own fundraising challenges.
If we look at the trend data for participation in challenge events, we can see exactly how impactful these circumstances were. Since 2010, roughly the same proportion of the UK public have participated in some sort of event each year – around 15%, very consistently. This figure rose dramatically through the pandemic however, and by September 2021 we saw that now 34% were saying the same, more than doubling the typical figure.
As of this year we’re seeing a return to pre-pandemic levels, but this does beg the question: was it simply the shift in routine that allowed for increased event participation, or was something more long-term unlocked in the public imagination? Though the figures for this year don’t look as positive as the sector might hope, we may see lingering effects from this period yet.
Who are people supporting?
So, what’s driving people to get involved? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main reason for people to sponsor someone is if the participant is a friend or family member. The only noteworthy shift emerging in this field occurred once again in the lockdown trend where more people found themselves supporting strangers and high-profile individuals like Captain Tom. This change hasn’t lasted, however, and the most important factor for sponsorship is a personal connection, underscoring the importance of the social element in motivating people to contribute to charitable causes.
Interestingly, there’s been a rise in the number of people telling us that their support, involvement, or sponsorship for an event comes from support for the cause itself, rather than support for the individual charity. It’s anecdotal, but the most recent charity event I attended had only written on the invitation “in support of mental health”. Though I could imagine which organisations they were supporting, this detail was less important in their mind than including the general cause. This seems to be a rising trend that charities ought to be aware of, as the reduction in visibility that arises from this may be an impactor on the health of their brand in the long run.
Sponsorship has taken a huge dip
Ten years ago, roughly a third of the public told us that they had not sponsored anyone in the past year for a fundraising event. This year we’ve reached an all-time high for this figure, with nearly two thirds of the public telling us the same. It used to be that the majority of people had sponsored challenge events like long distance walking, running, and cycling, but these fundraisers just no longer draw the same number of sponsors.
The silver lining here is that young people are not only the most likely to participate in sponsored events, but also the most likely to sponsor them. This may have to do with the younger generations simply supporting their peers, but could also hopefully be a signifier of a broader dynamic which might see interest in fundraising events return on a wider scale. Reaching younger audiences could therefore be an impactful way to ensure that your organisation maintains a strong fundraising presence in the events space.
Awareness of how your supporters want to become involved in your work is vital to your strategy. Whether it's their engagement through sporting events, social gatherings, or sponsored challenges, or wider donor habits, we'd love to help you better understand public priorities and how you can take advantage of the opportunities they present. For more information, consider downloading a briefing pack below.