How the Fearless Challenge Is Driving New Donors to the Canadian Cancer Society

Independent fundraising is one of the fastest-growing peer-to-peer program formats.

But independent campaigns have some important differences from more traditional event-style campaigns.

With the Fearless Challenge, participants overcome their fears -- even their fear of spiders -- to raise money.

With the Fearless Challenge, participants overcome their fears — even their fear of spiders — to raise money.

To learn about how charities that have a more traditional peer-to-peer event model can build successful independent campaigns, we recently reached out to Sue Dalos, senior manager of marketing and development for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario Division.

Dalos has been leading the Society’s latest peer-to-peer campaign — the Fearless Challenge, which challenges participants to face their fears to raise money.

Below is an excerpt from our interview:

So, what is the Fearless Challenge?
The Fearless Challenge is a peer-to-peer campaign where individuals or teams sign up online and raise money by challenging their own fears, essentially creating their own adventure.

They do this in 4 steps:
1. Selecting a fear or challenge to face.
2. Setting a fundraising goal. For example, how much would it take to convince someone to go bungee jumping, sing in public or allow a tarantula to walk up your arm? It is different for each person, but what is consistent is the desire (by friends and family) to participate and/or watch us overcome these fears.
3. Activating personal and professional networks to help reach the fundraising goal
4. Completing the challenge.

While the program has a very specific framework, it closely resembles traditional third-party fundraising programs in that participants are designing their own experience within that framework. The concept is simple and through technology it essentially runs itself. That makes this a very cost-effective fundraiser for the Society.

What have the results been?

When we were looking at developing a new fundraising program, we took a look at our database to determine audiences that we might be missing with our other programs. The Society has an incredibly strong and loyal supporter base within the 50-plus age category, as well as those with an immediate cancer connection. However, there is a significant portion of the population that we could be engaging, educating and supporting to further increase cancer prevention awareness and action including advocacy work, cancer screening and healthy living.

More than 80% of the donors to the Fearless Challenge are new to the Society and over 70% of participants are also new. It is still early to fully understand the long-term value of these audiences and our ability to positively impact their lives, but we are encouraged by early results.

What steps have you taken to help ensure that participants are successful?

We have developed a comprehensive coaching program that consists of both email coaching as well as phone coaching (for top fundraisers). Not only is this program resonating with new audiences for the Society – it’s actually attracting new fundraisers to the sector. We have found that many of our participants are new to P2P fundraising and welcome the tips and strategies our coaches provide. The Fearless Challenge also includes a fully integrated Facebook and mobile application.

We have also been fortunate to partner with a number of local event destinations that have offered free or discounted entry to their locations to complete a fearless challenge, like Canada’s Wonderland, Ripley’s Aquarium and many others. These incentives expand the reach of the program through partner marketing, attract new participants and encourage existing participants to fundraise towards their goal.

What are the benefits of building an independent fundraising platform vs. hosting stand-alone events?

The Fearless Challenge, like other independent fundraisers, provides a framework for individual or team fundraising, without the constraints of time, place or the logistics and risks of an event. Participants can personalize their experience by choosing how, when and where they will support the organization. No single event or series of events could provide the breadth and depth of challenge options or scenarios.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about fundraising as you’ve built the Fearless Challenge?

Strong consumer insight is needed before you start to develop any new fundraising program and should be revisited along the way to ensure a strong program. People are intrinsically motivated to succeed. If your offer resonates – they will jump on board and champion your program. If it doesn’t, no amount of advertising, coaching support or incentives will make a person fundraise for you. Know who your target audience is and build a program that is relevant to them.

— Peter Panepento