Fundraisers are moving online as the pandemic causes safety concerns

Charities are moving their events online, but some experts wonder if this will be enough to keep donations up

Every October the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada hosts a walk in Montreal to raise money and awareness for blood cancer. It usually takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau.

But this year, the park will be quiet.

On Oct. 24, like many other fundraisers during the pandemic, the event will be hosted online because of COVID-19.

Aptly called Light the Night, the walk is usually recognizable by the lanterns carried by its participants. Christina Cinquanta, the fund development manager for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, Quebec region, said 7,000 walkers attended the event last year.

“Light the Night is one of the biggest fundraisers and celebrations that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hosts,” said Cinquanta. “But this year we determined that a virtual Light the Night is the most appropriate and responsible thing to do.”

The organizers of Light the Night are now making the event available online in the form of a nation-wide broadcast on Oct. 24. Organizers are also adapting formerly in-person activities to things that can be done remotely.

For example, they will be mailing treat boxes and lanterns directly to the teams of volunteers who helped fundraise for the event.

Cinquanta said that Light the Night Montreal alone raised $1.4 million for the organization in 2019. This year the Society lowered their goal to one million dollars.  She is optimistic that they will meet their goal.

“We have teams fundraising every day,” she said. “They’re doing bingo nights, poker tournaments, raffles — all virtually. They’re doing everything they can.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s move to online raises questions about how the charitable sector is adapting to the pandemic more generally.

Many Montreal and Quebec charities have either postponed their events, converted them to online, or cancelled altogether. This scenario has some experts questioning the sector’s dependence on events as fundraising tools.

It is difficult to say how donors have responded to organizations’ efforts so far.

A recent survey by the Institut Mallet suggests that Quebec residents have made more monetary donations during the pandemic than previously. However, 69 per cent of charities reported declines in revenues nation-wide, according to a recent report by Imagine Canada.

Daniel Lanteigne, a philanthropy consultant at BNP Performance, has been advocating for charities to start moving away from events and building alternate relationships with donors.

“We have been saying for many years: less events, more discussion with donors,” he said. “So you can get them to a point where they might give a major gift or a planned gift.”

Greg Thomson is the Research Director at Charity Intelligence.

“Some of these events are very expensive,” he said.

“When donors give $100 to someone who is walking or running, they are really only giving $50 or $40 dollars. The rest is going to covering the costs.”

Thomson hopes that charities’ online experiments will lead to long-term innovation in the sector, particularly in the form of reducing event costs.

In the future he hopes that charities will use lessons learned from the pandemic to bolster their other fundraising methods or re-configure their events to maximize the benefit-to-cost ratio.

“From the difficulties we have, innovation sparks improvement for a lot of these big events,” Thomson said.


Photo courtesy of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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