How to Hold a Fundraiser During a Pandemic

CCC members pivot in order to hold big annual fundraising events


As with many nonprofit organizations, the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter had to get creative this year when it came to their annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraising event, due to Covid-19. Coming up this Saturday, September 19, the Denver Walk to End Alzheimer’s is billed as a “walk everywhere” event.

Davenport family did a 5.5 mile hike to end Alzheimer’s September 2020.

“It’s a DIY walk year,” explains Rebecca Engle, Director of the Denver Walk, “Instead of walking through a park for two miles together, you can hike a trail, climb a 14er, bike on a bike trail, or walk around your neighborhood. It’s what you make it with your family and friends or team members – whomever you feel comfortable with.” Even better, she says, you can do it anytime you want until the end of the year. It doesn’t have to be this Saturday. 

She and Senior Denver Walk Manager Ali Brieske said that earlier in the year when the pandemic first broke out, they kept a careful eye on the numbers in Colorado. They realized early on that they wouldn’t be able to hold the traditional Denver walk, which usually attracts about 10,000 to 12,000 participants in the fall. They held out hope that the other 12 Colorado walks, which tend to be smaller, might go on.

In early June, they received instructions from the home office that all in-person walks were canceled this year. As one of the top 10 Alzheimer’s walks nationwide, raising $1.28 million last year, the Denver office knew they had to pivot to plan a new walk experience quickly. 

“We don’t call it a virtual walk intentionally because it’s not just online. We tried to create an experience for people that would mimic our walk in the park, that would keep people safe and also allow people to celebrate the day because it is quite special,” explained Brieske.

On Walk Day this Saturday, there will be an online opening ceremony in the morning with their signature promise garden flower ceremony. There’s also an app that participants can download to track their steps and offer inspirational messages, some from celebrities. Again, you can watch the opening ceremony and use the app anytime between walk day and the end of the year. 

The Scleroderma Foundation Rocky Mountain Region also had to change up their annual fundraiser this year. Usually, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Scleroderma Foundation Maria Dastur says, the home office provides guidelines for all walks nationwide. With the pandemic, the Rocky Mountain chapter was able to get creative and target its active community. In June, they held the Choose Your Own Adventure: Stepping Out to Cure Scleroderma virtual fundraiser.

Scleroderma Foundation’s “Most Creative Fundraiser” award winner, Team Sal’s Pals

Also, instead of a one day walk, they decided to make it a two-month event because Dastur didn’t think a one-day event would raise enough money. Last year, the walks in Denver and Fort Collins, combined, raised $54,191, which makes up about a third of their operating budget.

She encouraged the Scleroderma community to get creative and not give up on fundraising. And creative is what they got. Some did a bike ride while others hit a treadmill. One person did a music video and sent it to anyone who donated. Another fundraiser hosted an improv night.

In the end, Dastur said that they surpassed what they made last year. “The Denver event almost matched 2019 levels, but it netted 27% more with the decreased expenses.” Her advice to other organizations: focus on the top fundraising teams. Help them in any way you can. 

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Rocky Mountain Chapter also had to figure out how to continue the tradition of their annual fundraising walk without jeopardizing their community’s health. Laura Rosseisen, Executive Director of JDRF, Rocky Mountain Chapter, said that they found out in late May that they couldn’t hold an in-person walk, which they’ve done for about 30 years.

Laura Rosseisen’s triathlon

Instead, the JDRF is holding a nationwide One Walk event, instead of individual walks. This event is also a multi-month event, ending November 1. “The November date is actually a celebration of sorts with people celebrating what they’ve done,” Rosseisen explains. “We have a robust virtual event planned with a virtual expo area and many things that you would experience in person.”

People are also getting creative with their fundraising efforts for the JDRF event. Some teams are setting a number of miles to walk between the time they registered and November 1. Others are pledging to walk on 10 different days, and others are picking a specific date to walk. Three different teams raised over $50,000, combined, by making masks and giving one to anyone who donated. 

In addition to the JDRF One Walk, they also hold a cycling program, which, again, this year looks a little different than past events. Called the JDRF My Ride, participants can ride any way they’d like – indoors, outdoors, with friends, up a mountain, on a bike path, etc. 

For her ride, Rosseisen did a triathlon September 2 to raise funds for JDRF. “I’m a person who likes to swim, run, and ride my bike. I decided this year that instead of tackling a big ride, which I’ve done in the past, I wanted to do something different.”

All three organizations’ representatives were happy that they could pivot and continue their annual big fundraising events, even though they looked different this year. The one thing that they missed, though, was the gathering of the community. 

“We’ll probably continue to have a virtual component,” says Dastur. “But, these in-person events are the once a year that our community comes together.”


Important links:

Denver’s Alzheimer’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s 

One Walk JDRF, Denver

My Ride JDRF

Scleroderma Foundation Rocky Mountain Chapter

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