Five ways Diabetes UK’s One Million Step Challenge doubled its income in 2020

The One Million Step Challenge is Diabetes UK’s biggest annual virtual fundraising event – and has helped the charity buck pandemic trends

The pandemic has been a major blow to fundraising in the sector. Many charities had to abandon face-to-face events – from cycle rides to golf days and gala dinners – as well the cancellation of mainstream mass-participation events, such as the London Marathon and the Great North Run, which bring in significant funds for organisations that have places for supporters to participate. 

Many charities quickly adapted to virtual events, such as online quizzes or challenge events, to make up for this fundraising shortfall. 

But as many charities faced a fund­raising crisis, Diabetes UK managed to raise £1.9m – a greater sum in one year than its flagship fundraising event had raised over the past four years, and almost twice its 2020 target. How did it do it? Assistant director of engagement and partnerships at the charity Steven Greenberg explains.

1. Adapting an already virtual event

Diabetes UK’s biggest fundraising event was already virtual, so you would be forgiven for thinking it would be simple to deliver as planned. But alongside its many challenges, the Covid-19 crisis brought opportunities to tailor the One Million Step Challenge for a wider audience. 

The event takes place annually in July, but marketing had already started when lockdown came into effect at the end of March 2020. 

“When lockdown happened, we had to stop the campaign and work really quickly to adjust not only our marketing plans but also the messaging and imagery to make it relevant to the environment we were now in,” Greenberg says. 

“We couldn’t have messaging that said, ‘take part with your friends,’ or images that showed groups of people.” 

The marketing team’s swift work to bring the comms in line with government guidelines meant the organisation could adapt this quickly and get its campaign back on track.

2. Making it accessible to everyone

People living with diabetes were classed as clinically vulnerable, so Diabetes UK’s comms team had to rethink the challenge to make it accessible to them. 

Normally the challenge is to complete 10,000 steps a day over three months. 

Greenberg explains: “With some people having to shield or just making the choice to stay at home, we introduced the Half Million Step Challenge as well as the Step at Home challenge, which is a precursor to the main event. Having these options meant people could still take part, get fit at home and raise money.”

3. Tying it to the mission 

A core reason for the success of the challenge is its close fit with the cause and the charity. “This is a mission-led event that’s accessible to everyone,” Greenberg says.

“We know that regular exercise lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and, with the right diet, can help some people with Type 2 go into remission. This means that blood sugar levels are in a healthy range, usually without needing to take any diabetes medication.” 

4. Building an engaged community

The Diabetes UK One Million Step Challenge Facebook group has more than 7,000 members, and serves as a safe space where people can share their stories, support one another and be inspired to raise more money.

Greenberg says the organisation invested more time and resources in the group in 2020 to help facilitate conversation and build the community further.

“It’s also been a great source of inspiration internally as people share their motivation for taking part, whether it’s in memory of a loved one or for their own health benefits,” he says. 

5. Having a well-known and relevant personality

Famous faces have lent their support in previous years, but in 2020 the charity worked with Jo Gardiner, star of BBC’s Race Across the World, to front the campaign.

“The fit was right with Jo as she’s not only a well-known face, but she has been living with Type 1 diabetes for 40 years – and she was taking part in the event,” Greenberg says.

“She was someone our supporters could completely relate to, and be inspired by.” 

Having a fundraising challenge that fits your mission and purpose, is accessible and uses authentic, relatable people and stories to market it and inspire sign-ups will help ensure its success, Greenberg says. And the numbers don’t lie – 22,500 people stepped up to the challenge. 

Steven Greenberg’s tips for a successful campaign, no matter what your budget

Be quick to adapt if needed. 

Understand your audience, and what resonates with them by testing and adapting your messaging and images. Facebook ads are a great way to test this. You don’t need a big budget – a smaller one can be more effective as it narrows the scope. After increasing spend by five per cent, we saw a 74 per cent increase in registrations.

Get to know your supporters on a deeper level.

Through our Facebook group we’ve been able to get greater insights into their motivations for taking part.

Have really engaging content.

It doesn’t have to be slick! In fact, some of our best-performing content was shot by staff on their phones. Be creative. 

Tell real-life stories. 

Storytelling has been integral to our marketing, as people share not only their motivations but also how the challenge has made a real difference to their lives. 

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