Nonprofit to Make Virtual Option Permanent Part of Its Events
When the pandemic hit last year, Bike to the Beach knew its efforts of supporting autism and disability-focused nonprofits was just as important — if not more important. The organization that plans fundraising rides from urban centers to the beach had to figure out how to keep its fundraising efforts going amidst the health crisis, so it turning to virtual events and other fundraising opportunities.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit created a COVID-19 Impact Local Support Challenge that allowed participants to track their miles and request corporate sponsorship through the GivHero fundraising app. That effort raised $10,000 throughout April and May 2020.
But it then became clear that the remaining cycling rides couldn’t go on as planned across the country, so the organization turned to an online peer-to-peer fundraising platform to help it pivot to hybrid and then virtual events. Utilizing the Sweet! by Blue Sky platform from Blue Sky Collaborative, Marlborough, Massachusetts, Bike to the Beach transformed its events and raised a total of $1 million in 2020. Though that figure fell short of its original, pre-pandemic goal, it surpassed its revised expectation.
“We raised more than twice as much as we thought we could raise, given the pandemic,” Ben Dalley, director of operations for Bike to the Beach, said in a statement. “Many nonprofits were not doing events last year, but by partnering with Blue Sky, we found a way. All in all, it was a good year.”
The virtual success led Bike to the Beach to make the decision to continue offering the virtual option to riders with no fundraising minimum as it is still limiting in-person rides to 100 people. Virtual participants can either ride with a team at a particular event or opt for a customized national campaign that helps corporate clients to create team camaraderie and fundraise virtually with remote employees or among offices located across the country.
“There are people who have heard about the ride, have always wanted to do it, but for whatever reason, they couldn't be there that day,” Dalley told NonProfit PRO when asked about the impact of its virtual option. “Also, there are people who are return riders because they have been doing it with their family and their friends in the office for a long time, but then for whatever reason can't make it that day. Now, they can still participate.”
After a successful event in Florida raised more than $97,000 for Bike to the Beach’s February 2021 ride, riders pedaling from both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to Dewey Beach in Delaware is next up on July 30. Participants will have the option of different lengths ranging from 25 to 100 miles in person and virtually. Other races include Boston to Rhode Island on Sept. 18, New York City to Long Island, N.Y., on Oct. 2, and Houston to Galveston, Texas on Oct. 30.
The nonprofit is already seeing a return to pre-COVID levels and has surpassed its $50,000 and $300,000 goals for the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., rides, respectively.
“Our Sweet! and Blue Sky Give peer-to-peer fundraising platforms offer nonprofits both large and small the ability to host their events virtually so they can maintain a connection with their community and continue their mission to gain support for their charity,” Syam Buradagunta, president at Blue Sky Collaborative, said in a statement.
The series of 2020 events included a cancelled California event that still raised funds, socially distanced races with mandatory mask-wearing, staggered starts and contact tracing in Washington D.C., Maryland and New York, a hybrid race in New England and a completely virtual option in Texas. The virtual component, called Virtual Ride and Advocacy Challenge, allowed participants to track their miles and complete advocacy actions anywhere to earn points and prizes in the Strava app. After each event, Bike to the Beach was able to improve future events with lessons learned to build on its outdoor offerings and the Virtual Ride & Advocacy Challenge.
“Working with Blue Sky to adjust our events was critical for us in 2020,” Dalley said in a statement. “When the world turned upside down last year, Blue Sky helped us to create new and virtual fundraising offerings for our riders that would be unique and allow us to stay relevant. We implemented the Virtual Ride & Advocacy Challenge, integrating Blue Sky with Strava and Givhero so we could engage riders to participate in the challenge and allow our community to interact. With any other software provider, we probably couldn’t have shifted as quickly or created a digital solution that fits our organization like Blue Sky does.”
Though Dalley doesn’t expect virtual to be as prominent as last year, it does complement its live event model, adds a new revenue stream and helps to spread the word about a cause to more supporters.
“What we’re trying to do is create options for people to fuel energy virtually, whether it is through our virtual event offerings or watching our videos to learn about the cause and sharing those videos,” he said. “Again, a lot of our virtual events on the national level have been partnerships with groups and corporation teams where we allow them to create their own camaraderie. So, virtual won't ever replace the actual in-person events, but it's a great tool to have, especially if we can facilitate learning about the cause, as well as connecting with friends and coworkers and family through our virtual event.”