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How we created a successful virtual campaign in the time of Covid-19

Conservation charity Tusk used Virgin Money Giving’s Campaign tool to turn the annual Lewa Safari Marathon digital and raised over a quarter of a million pounds in the process. Here’s how they did it.

Conservation charity Tusk used Virgin Money Giving’s Campaign tool to turn the annual Lewa Safari Marathon digital and raised over a quarter of a million pounds in the process. Here’s how they did it.

Tusk’s Lewa Safari Marathon is one of the conservation charity’s biggest fundraising events of the year. The annual race through the spectacular Kenya wildlife conservancy is, according to Runner’s World magazine, one of the top ten marathons on the planet. But in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tusk had to make the painful decision to cancel the physical race, leaving a financial hole that threatened to derail the charity’s fantastic work. Mary-Jane Attwood and Hannah Pugh from Tusk explain how they took the marathon online.

Baby rhino joins in the Lewa Sarari Marathon to Tusk

How important is the Lewa Safari Marathon to Tusk?

Hannah Pugh, Fundraising Assistant: It’s massive – one of our biggest fundraising events of the year. We normally raise about half a million pounds.

Crossing the finish line at the Lewa Sarari Marathon to Tusk

Mary-Jane Attwood, Media Coordinator: That's what we aim for. The event started in 2000 with 180 runners and now we're up to 1,400.

Why has the race been so successful in terms of fundraising?

HP: We've got a few loyal corporate teams that come and run and they do the largest amount of fundraising – teams from companies like Ninety One, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, UBS, Emso and DWS who use the event as a team-building exercise.

Action shot at the Lewa Sarari Marathon to Tusk

M-J A: I think the other key is that when international runners arrive at Lewa, we take them to see projects that benefit directly from the Lewa Safari Marathon. When runners see the difference their support makes, many of them are locked in and they come back year after year.

How did the idea of a virtual marathon come about?

M-J A: Right at the beginning of lockdown in the UK in March we said, "There's no way the physical race is going to happen." It was a very sad decision to make – but there was no other option.

HP: We just had to adapt, didn't we? We saw that everything was becoming virtual and thought, "Okay, if this is something we can do, why not?"

M-J A: The virtual challenge we decided on was to complete a half or full marathon in June however you could: run it, walk it, ride it, or even swim it. The idea was that anyone, anywhere could take part. When we first started we were aiming to raise £50,000. It's raised £256,000 so far. These virtual events can fly.

How did you find your audience?

M-J A: We already had the buy-in because we had a list of people who signed up for 2020 before we had to cancel. So we started with them. We then went right back to 2012 and emailed everybody who had applied to run with e-shots to say, "This is happening. It's a virtual event, wherever you are please tap in."

HP: We also emailed our database of supporters. We have a lot of people who can't afford to go to Kenya to run, so it meant that they could all get involved. We had over 2,000 people sign up.

What do you need to produce?

HP: There was the option to purchase a Tusk running vest to anyone that signed up. This was a great way of spreading the word as they were seen training in them. Then after the event we sent e-certificates to everyone who completed the challenge which made it that bit more personal.

How did you use the campaign pages on Virgin Money Giving?

HP: Since the Campaign pages group everything [fundraisers, direct donations and team fundraising] in one place, sending the campaign link to our runners worked really well. It’s great to have it all in one place because people feel a bit more of a sense of community when you can see what others are doing.

The Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon Challenge on our new look Campaigns page

The Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon Challenge on our new look Campaigns page

M-J-A: One of the things we did was to show the difference a certain donation can make, so £25, for example, could buy a ranger a new pair of trek boots. Most people will relate to it immediately, and it's a manageable amount. I think it makes it more rewarding for that person to know exactly what their money could buy.

The donation options for the Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon Challenge on our new look Campaigns page

HP: It's also so much easier for me to download a report and see who's donated and how the teams and fundraisers are doing. To have everything in one place was great.

What advice do you have for any other charity considering a virtual event?

HP: Be inclusive to as many different audiences as you can and offer fundraising incentives. Tusk's affiliated photographer, David Yarrow, offered a free print to anyone who raised over £300. That was so generous of him and a huge incentive for people.

What’s the future for the Lewa Safari Marathon?

M-J-A: We are hoping that the 2021 physical race will go ahead, but we will be running the virtual event again next year regardless. This virtual Lewa Marathon has had an enormous impact on us in that we've been able to reach a global audience. We've tapped into an amazing source of positive energy that we didn't ever expect in such uncertain and challenging times.

The donation options for the Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon Challenge on our new look Campaigns page

Find out more about Virgin Money Giving Campaign pages and Tusk’s work.

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