The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital: 8 Steps to Creating Community During a Virtual Event

Like thousands of other nonprofits,  The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital had to make some major adjustments to their fundraising plan in 2020. Traditionally they host their cycling event, Tour de Guelph, on a single day and riders start the route together. Due to COVID social distancing restrictions, the Foundation chose to host a  completely virtual ride in 2020. Keep reading to learn about the 8 key steps they took to engage their riders, create a virtual sense of community and raise 37% more in 2020 than in 2019. 
History of the Tour de Guelph
The Tour de Guelph  was born from an ambitious idea from then Rotarian David Parr. David, an avid cyclist himself, was inspired by a Foundation Board member, Terry Manning, who, when he was almost 70, embarked on a 50-day cycling journey which raised $33,000(CAD) for the Hospital.  David and Terry engaged two local Rotary clubs, staff members from The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital and   community members and hosted first the Tour de Guelph in 2014.
In the first six years of the Tour de Guelph, the event has raised over $450,000(CAD) for the community.  The proceeds from the event go to Guelph General Hospital and Rotary Clubs of Guelph South and Guelph Trillium, who then disperses funds to various community organizations
Due to COVID, the team at the Foundation  chose to take the Tour de Guelph completely virtual in 2020. Instead of a one day event, they gave participants a month- June 28th-July 26th, 2020 to complete one of the routes on their own and fundraise online. 
Tour de guelph banner image
Circles 1 Keep going and include everyone.
These are uncertain times and it probably feels like everything is working against your fundraising success. However, the staff at the Foundation knew that people still wanted to support their organization and cause and be a part of their community. In fact, many of their core supporters were even more motivated because of the pandemic.
Instead of cancelling the Tour de Guelph, they kept going and came up with an alternative way for their community to be involved.  And in 2020, they were able to open the event to individuals on bike trainers, stationary bikes, and walkers.  The majority of their 2020 participants were returning riders, but they also engaged new participants by making the event more flexible and including more of their community.
Hazel Dickie
Tour de Guelph participant Hazel  "racing" at home
Circles 2 Set SMART goals.
When you're considering  a virtual event, the revenue and costs may be a bit different than what you're used to. In-person events come with lots of costs like venue rental, food and beverage, equipment rental, and more. Virtual events may have some new costs- like software fees or digital marketing- but they tend to be less costly overall.
The Foundation  of Guelph General Hospital looked at  their budget and were able to spend less overall and shift some of their spending to things like fundraising incentives, milestone prizes and gifts. In fact, they reduced their overall costs by  60%.
 Tour de Guelph announces over $100,000  (CAD) raised 
They also looked at their pre-COVID fundraising goal and new estimated expenses  and  agreed on a net goal of $100,000(CAD). This turned out to be very smart  as they exceeded this goal, raising over $102,000 (CAD).  They communicated the goal , progress to the goal and  their final fundraising total to their community.
When all the funds were counted, they raised 37% more in 2020 than in 2019. And they managed this with only about 300 riders, compared to about 750 in 2019. By focusing on creating a sense of community for their core supporters, they  exceeded their revenue goal and ensured that they have a strong group of supporters that will come back in 2021.
Circles 3Communicate-  A LOT- with your participants.

In addition to communicating fundraising numbers,  the Foundation staff kept up the same communication with participants that they would normally have during a traditional year.

They communicated via email, sending  registration reminders, fundraising tips and event details. Their event website included lot of information about the event, including   previous race routes and a new 5 km loop in Downtown Guelph's Old University area. Participants were encouraged to complete 1, 2 or more loops.  The longest route- 160 km-  included marked rest areas for taking photos , water  stops and- of course- a quick rest.

Routes were mapped with Ride With GPS and could be sent to mobile devices, shared, and printed. The route maps even included an elevation graph so participants would know which parts of the route were most challenging.



Another key to their communication plan was highlighting their mission and the organizations that benefitted from the funds raised. In addition to supporting Guelph General Hospital, the event  supports two Rotary Groups in Guelph. Some of the organizations funded by the Rotary include: Food for Kids and Hope House.
Circles 4Provide digital resources to help participants register and fundraise.
In 2019, the Foundation staff created a series of "How-To" videos that help  participants use their online fundraising page in Panorama™. They updated the videos for 2020 and they were a big success.
The  videos included tips about registration, using the online fundraising portal,  and emailing supporters with Panorama's engagement tools. 
Video overview of online fundraising portal made by The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital
Providing digital content that can be accessed at any time not only helps participants, but also helps the staff save  time and focus on fundraising!
Circles 5Provide quick tips for fundraising success.

They also included quick tips for fundraising success on their website. Highlights include: 

  1. Ask everyone you know. 
  2.  Ask up to three times. 
  3. Personalize your online giving page. 
  4. Set the bar by making a self-pledge. 
  5. Start early! 
 These tips are easy to follow and participants can easily share them with  friends and family that are riding with them. 
Circles 6Encourage participants to share event photos online.
One of the coolest things  the Tour de Guelph implemented is an online photo album.  Participants were encouraged to submit their ride photos  on  
Submit a photo
 Lots of riders submitted photos and   it's a great  way  to share photos. An added bonus is you can use the photos for thank you emails and future event collateral! 


Christopher J. Greyson-Gaito Pat Heather Finn
Donna Harris Jocelyne Roy Brenda Whiteside

Just a few of the Tour de Guelph participants

Circles 7Offer fun fundraising incentives.
As previously mentioned, Tour de Guelph was able to offer more prizes and fundraising incentives  in 2020 by diverting funds normally spent on in-person costs like venue rental and food and beverage.
Tour de guelph
All riders that raised $300 or more received the 2020 Tour de Guelph cycling jersey. Many cyclists like to collect ride jerseys, so having a unique design each year makes them collectible.  In 2020, a record number of 98 riders met the $300 milestone! 52 raised $500 or more and 24 raised $1,000 or more. Each milestone included a different prize- a sweat towel for $500 or more and a jacket for $1,000 or more.
In addition to these milestone prizes, top fundraisers- those that raised $1,000 or more- we entered into a random drawing for additional prizes like a "Spa Day for Your Bike". Youth participants were  entered into a second drawing for  additional items.
Finally, all registered riders that raised at least $25 received a coupon for a meal at Harvey's Restaurants- a well-known Canadian burger restaurant franchise. These donated coupons added an extra incentive to meet the fundraising minimum.  Participants that usually ride together could also use the coupons to meet up for a socially distanced   meal to celebrate their riding accomplishments.
Circles 8Highlight the impacts of fundraising: 
 Never forget about about your mission. Most nonprofits are good at sharing mission information, but putting fundraising dollars into real terms helps supporters to understand where their dollars are going. If $100,000 funds one research study for a year, be sure to include that statistic in your thank you communications. If funds raised pay for specific equipment at a hospital, share the details.
The Tour de Guelph included very real examples of the impact of their supporter's fundraising on their website and in supporter communications.
Since its inception, the Tour de Guelph has helped fund Interventional Radiology Equipment, IV Pumps, an Ultrasound Machine, Respiratory Ventilators, the Guelph General Hospital’s new CT Scanner, and a Centralized Cardiac Monitoring system.
In addition to sharing  this messaging verbally and in writing,  they created videos  with leaders of the benefitting organizations,  like this video about funding blood pressure monitors at Guelph General Hospital's Day Surgery Unit.
 Tour de Guelph will fund blood pressure monitors
 The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital managed to make their Tour de Guelph event   a huge success- despite facing some major challenges. Creating a sense of community among their participants  transformed these individuals from regular riders to advocates for their organization. 
These die hard advocates helped to raise  37% more funds with FEWER participants- about 750 in 2019 and about 300 in 2020.
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The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital was founded in 1987 to help meet the patient care needs at Guelph General Hospital.

Patient care equipment is not covered by government funding within the province of Ontario. Equipment as essential as IV pumps, surgical scopes and diagnostic scanners are available at Guelph General Hospital only because of generous financial gifts from within the community.

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FrontStream is a leader in the nonprofit fundraising industry and makers of the Panorama by FrontStream- your all -in-one digital fundraising platform.

With over 20 years of experience in the fundraising software industry, our FrontStream team is mission-focused on helping nonprofits and socially responsible corporations raise more funds to do more good. Through our innovative and secure fundraising solutions, we help organizations reach their goals and effect positive change in the world.


Additional Resources:

Webinar: Virtual Events and Real-Time Participation 

Case Study: Lymphoma Canada: 10 Steps to Creating a Successful New Virtual Challenge Event

Blog Post:  How to Engage Your VIP Supporters to Maximize Donations 

Walk, Runs and Rides with Panorama by FrontStream

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