Facebook Challenges: How to a Create a Facebook Virtual Event

Facebook Fundraising is a valued income stream for many organisations and a Facebook Challenge is a new way you can harness the tools beyond Facebook birthday fundraisers.

The Roswell Park Alliance foundation took Facebook fundraising to the next level, and combined it with a virtual Facebook challenge event. The objective? To bring an online community together and fundraise for cancer patients. Alison and Sammy share the process, the results and the lessons learnt.

Alison Lockwood is a Senior Fundraising Coordinator at the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation & Sammy Jannik is the Brand and Digital Marketing Manager.

What We Will Cover:

  • Using Facebook Fundraising for a Virtual Challenge
  • Why a Step Challenge?
  • The Participant’s Journey
  • Creating a Facebook Group
  • Our Facebook Ad Strategy
  • Initial Numbers
  • Building a Community
  • Final Numbers 
  • What’s Next?

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Watch the Facebook Challenges video here:

About Roswell Park Alliance Foundation

We are the nonprofit organisation that supports Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Centre, the USA’s first Cancer Centre. The funds we raise go towards groundbreaking research and our innovative treatment options for patients as well as patient care programmes. 

Here at the Foundation, we manage all the donations that are made to Roswell Park. 

Using Facebook Challenges for Fundraising

Throughout the month of February, we decided to take on a challenge we called 280,000 Steps for Cancer Patients. This was the first time that we’ve ever done anything like this. 

We were excited to see where it would go. It came at the perfect time for us between the other fundraising events that we have. It was a downtime in the year, and we were getting ready to launch another big event.

We thought that February would just be a good time. It’s the winter, there’s not very much for people to do, especially physically. And like many other nonprofit organisations, we felt the impact of COVID. So we were looking for more ways to increase peer-to-peer fundraising that wasn’t tied to a physical event. 

This was also a way for us to reintroduce Facebook fundraising to our audience. We wanted to teach them that there’s more fundraising you can do on Facebook. It’s not just for birthdays.

In turn, this created a brand new digital audience for us.

We partnered with Get Your Stories Straight to help us choose our specific challenge. There are all sorts of things that you can do, from walking to push ups to a running challenge. Given the time of the year for the challenge, we felt that walking would be the best way to reach a wide variety of constituents. 

We worked with Get Your Stories Straight to create an extensive project plan, including a timeline. We mapped out everything, from the date advertisements were launched, to when we ended our final communications. Once advertisements began to run, participants were put on a specific path. And from there, our staff was responsible for all the tracking. This is where GivePanel came into play.

Every day, I would run the donation reports from Facebook, import them into GivePanel, and make sure everybody was segmented into a proper group. Here, we were able to track the donations, as well as our t-shirt fulfillments (we sent these out for free when a participant filled out a lead gen form). We were also able to compare how many participants we had in the group versus how much was being fundraised.

Our reporting was comprehensive and detailed, and allowed us to watch our numbers closely. It was a great system between Get Your Stories Straight, GivePanel and our team responsible for daily monitoring of the Facebook group.

This whole challenge was run specifically out of a Facebook group. And that’s how we communicated with our participants. We would all post in the group daily. Our biggest job was to make sure that everybody’s post in the group received a comment  from one of our staff members. 

There was not one post that we missed. It did take a lot of staff time, and we worked on this pretty much 24 hours a day. But the group was just so excited and engaging. That was a big part of this – keeping participants engaged and making sure that we were stewarding them throughout the whole challenge. 

Why a Step Challenge?

So why did we choose this specific challenge? 

Well, there’s a couple reasons:

  • We didn’t have a walk in place already at the Alliance foundation. 
  • We thought that walking would be the most weather friendly here in Buffalo. It’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s windy. 
  • It was a great option to attract a variety of participants.
  • People didn’t need to buy equipment to take part (less friction than a challenge where participants have to go out and buy equipment first)

We decided to make it a step challenge. We wanted people to aim to get 280,000 steps throughout the whole month. And that equates to 10,000 steps a day. 

Participants may have thought I can’t do 10,000 steps a day. But, they quickly realised that they’re already getting most of those steps, if not way more, throughout their regular day. 

It was a very attainable goal for our participants. It was also easy for them to track as they didn’t need any special technology. Many of them had a Fitbit or a Garmin that they would use. A lot of them just used the applications on smartphones, or a regular pedometer.

The Participant’s Journey

Before diving any further, here’s what the experience was like for participants. This is their journey from start to finish.

The first thing that you would see in their Facebook newsfeed was an ad from us. It would be an ad from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation with a captivating message and image. The call to action would be based around ‘Participate in this challenge, you’ll get a free t-shirt, you’ll have the chance to help cancer patients’, and ‘You’ll be a part of a group of donors who are doing the same thing’.

On that ad, they would be prompted to fill out the lead gen form right on Facebook. This was important – they never once left Facebook. The whole journey was right on Facebook, even the ad. They would fill out the lead gen form, giving us their first name, last name and email. At the end, there’d be a thank you message with a button that would prompt them to join our Facebook group.

If they clicked through, they would be dropped off at the entry page of our Facebook group. If they requested to join, they would be automatically approved and they would get in the group immediately. They would be able to see our posts and other people’s posts. They would be able to start commenting, liking, and really engaging with the group. 

At the top of the Facebook group, we pinned a post, which told them how to go about getting their free t-shirt. This was a link to a GivePanel form. They would fill in this form, give us their email address and mailing address. This is how we were able to send them a t-shirt. After this, through the group and emails, they were encouraged to start a Facebook fundraiser on behalf of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation.

Creating a Facebook Group

We’ve run groups for some of our other events. But this one was different than anything we’ve ever done before. We needed automatic approvals for posts and for membership requests, as we didn’t want to lose potential participants. 

We wanted the journey to be super easy. We wanted it to be instant gratification, where someone saw an ad, filled in the lead gen form, got into the group immediately, and quickly signed up to get their t-shirt. Ads on Facebook run any time of day –  morning, night, evening, weekends, holidays, they don’t stop. As such, we didn’t want people getting caught up in the process of our team approving their post or membership request. 

We also made sure to implement an impactful header image. When we worked with Get Your Stories Straight, they provided us content and imagery. We tweaked the imagery based on our brand standards and tried to evoke a local, Buffalo-feel. We also made sure to include the name of the challenge on the image, our logo and the fact that we were walking for cancer patients. 

We also made sure that, if any of our team posted in the group, it came from an individual person. None of the posts ever came from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation page. This was to humanise the group.

We were both in the group, along with several other team members. We would post organically, like and comment. We wanted to create an amazing community where people knew they weren’t getting a brand, they were getting an actual human. We even dropped gifts – we wanted to make people feel like they were a part of something. 

Along with this, we had scheduled posts that went out every few days to encourage discussion. We almost didn’t need scheduled posts because the community was so engaged – we had so many people that were so willing to share their stories. But the scheduled posts helped to encourage discussion, giving people a reason to feel like they could come to the group.

Our Facebook Ad Strategy

We ran 60 Facebook ads, which sounds like a lot. But we did this because we were covering a large geographic location. We kept our targeting very broad. 

These ads ran to anybody in the Buffalo area, which goes all the way to the Pennsylvania border. Then, we went out to Rochester and even into Syracuse. I don’t know the exact audience range, but I believe it was almost half a million. We targeted all genders across ages 18 to 65. So we were targeting a lot of people across a broad audience. This is why we had a lot of ads. We were continuously learning what content, copy or images they would identify with.

The great thing about advertising on Facebook is that the algorithm is smart. Once one ad starts getting a lot of engagement, or is accomplishing the goal that you set up, it will be delivered to more people. And when other ads that aren’t doing as well, they won’t be delivered as much. 

That’s why we had so many types of copy and images to choose from. We wanted to let the audience dictate what content they liked. Within each ad set, there were actually six ads. We had the same copy, but different imagery.

In our best performing ad, we used stock imagery of LL Bean Boots. People in Buffalo wear these types of boots all the time. This is a perfect example of letting your audience choose what ad they really identified with. The caption was one of the longest we had. But it included details of everything participants needed to know – the challenge itself, how many steps, the group and the t-shirt. 

Our best performing ad generated 1,800 leads. And the cost per result was amazing too: it was about $1.34 every time someone filled out the lead gen form.

We also ran other ads. Once a potential participant completed the lead gen form, we would serve ads to them that encouraged them to join the group – that was just kind of a catch all. At the end of the lead generation form, there was a button to join the Facebook group. If they didn’t click through, or if they clicked through and didn’t end up joining, they would get ads served to them over the next couple days. This acted as a reminder to join the group. 

Initial Numbers for Facebook Challenges

Get Your Story Straight set us up with a project plan, which included projections throughout the entire challenge. This was from the date that our advertisements started to the end date of the challenge itself, which was February 28th. 

We started running our advertisements on January 6th. The challenge itself did not start until February 1. But on day two alone, we were projected to have 310 signups and we saw 689 signups. Our fundraising on day two was through the roof already, we were projected to raise $1,100. And we were over $22,000. 

By February 15, we were projected to have 1,800 members in our Facebook group and we were already over 3,800 members.

Building a Community

The challenge community, to put it simply, blew us away. We did not know what to expect going into this because it was brand new to us. We were thinking we’d get a lot of people that were local to Buffalo, who had already connected to our cause as they’re familiar with Roswell Park. But we attracted participants from all over – Europe, California, Florida, everywhere. This event was barrier free, and wasn’t tied to any sort of physical dated event at one specific location. It really allowed us to reach people exactly where they were. 

That was a beautiful thing about doing this challenge specifically on Facebook. The stories that we heard from participants were inspiring. People started to connect with each other, in a group of complete strangers. And by the end of the challenge, we had a solid list of participants who pretty much became ambassadors for the challenge. They were constantly commenting on other people’s posts and sharing their own stories. They started to realise that they were connected with these other participants. Everyone had their own individual story, but they were all in this for the same reason. 

When one person was having a bad day, maybe hadn’t reached 10,000 steps, other people were chiming in, commenting saying things like ‘Oh, I did 15,000 steps today, I will donate some of my steps to you’. There were people telling them every single step counts for cancer patients. You are doing this for such a great cause, whether you got one step in today or 10,000. It doesn’t matter, don’t give up. 

People were getting super creative with how they were getting their steps in, especially here in Buffalo. I mentioned it’s cold, it’s snowy. We had very windy days, but people were getting outside. There were also people who were nearing their 10,000 steps, and would do things like walk around their kitchen island while they were cooking dinner, or they’d put on a video that would help them get steps in. We had videos being posted of people dancing to get their steps. And people were just constantly motivating each other. 

Final Numbers

Our staff was fulfilling t-shirt registrations daily. We were projected by the middle of February to have had 1,200 t-shirt orders placed. We had over 2,700 placed – you can imagine just how many shirts we were mailing out every single day!

We had to place a couple of reorders, which was very unexpected. But, this uptake in registrations not only meant that people were proud to participate, but it was helping us to capture their information (which can be a downfall of Facebook fundraising).

By the end of the challenge, February 28, we were projected to raise just over $72,000. And we had already raised over $208,000. Our final result – we raised almost $217,000.

We ended up with 3,100 people in the group, we sent out almost 2,100 t-shirts. We had 1,172 participants create a Facebook fundraiser that had at least one donation attached to it. The lead gen form had an option to receive our marketing communications. We had over 2,000 people opt in to hear from us after this challenge.

What’s Next for Facebook Challenges?

We cannot wait to do our next challenge. We will probably be looking to change it up, maybe do a run or something along the lines of push ups. We are thinking of doing something towards September and tie it to our paediatric Cancer Awareness Month.

The participants themselves are already craving another challenge. One of the group members took it upon themselves to create a brand new group for the month of March. They invited the other participants to join them so that they could keep their steps, and momentum, going. 

Want to Learn More About Facebook Challenges?

"Our target for registrations was 6750. We ended up with 39,000..." 🚀