How the American Cancer Society Broke Fundraising Records During the 2020 Pandemic

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443,078
Leads
$3.12
Cost Per Lead
61,000
Fundraisers
$22.41
Cost Per Acquisition

Executive Summary

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in February, 2020, the American Cancer Society lost the ability to host:

  • Over 2,000 in-person events that would account for more than $300M in revenue.
  • Their largest fundraiser, Relay For Life.

ACS partnered with GoodUnited to drive revenue through digital peer-to-peer fundraising on Facebook, helping ACS not only recover lost income but authentically engage an entirely new pool of supporters.

The American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society has been a thriving staple of the nonprofit world since its founding over 100 years ago. Over the past 75 years, ACS has funded more than $5 billion in cancer research, contributing to the 29% decrease in cases of cancer since
1991.

Relay For Life

Relay For Life has been the largest peer-to-peer fundraising event worldwide for over 35 years. More than that, it's communities taking up the fight, coming together to show their support for loved ones affected by cancer, and raising awareness, funds, and the spirit necessary to beat it.

Millions have joined the Relay For Life movement worldwide. Over $6B have been raised through it. Numerous studies have been funded and countless lives saved thanks to it.

Relay For Life is also the American Cancer Society’s bloodline, helping them fund their yearly research programs and stay true to their mission: to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.

Inspiring Supporters to
Give During a Crisis

When COVID hit in 2020 and made in-person events impossible, Relay For Life, ACS’s greatest source of revenue, was compromised. For the first time in its history, ACS had to contend with the possibility of falling short of funding their research programs that year. Without that funding, there would be fewer cures and discoveries and no progress made to a world without cancer.

But ACS wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Nor were their volunteers, who connected with ACS and asked, “What can we do?”
We realized we needed to lead with a digital-first mindset to drive revenue and engage donors.
Dan Thorpe
National Vice President - Relay For Life, American Cancer Society

When COVID hit in 2020 and made in-person events impossible, Relay For Life, ACS’s greatest source of revenue, was compromised. For the first time in its history, ACS had to contend with the possibility of falling short of funding their research programs that year. Without that funding, there would be fewer cures and discoveries and no progress made to a world without cancer.

But ACS wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Nor were their volunteers, who connected with ACS and asked, “What can we do?”

Knowing that this wouldn’t take much-added staff time or expenses on our end made the decision easy.
Dan Thorpe
National Vice President - Relay For Life, American Cancer Society

Raising Funds & Building Communities with GoodUnited

As a pilot project, GoodUnited ran Facebook ads on behalf of ACS targeting 3 locations and encouraging people to sign up for a 1-month challenge. They were then asked to join a Facebook group with everyone else in their area. Each of the 3 groups had a different activity (walking, running, doing squats).

Participants talked about why the cause mattered to them, shared their experiences with cancer, and motivated one another to complete the challenge. They connected, cheered for, supported, celebrated, and bonded with each other.

Just like they would have in an in-person event.

GoodUnited also encouraged participants to opt into Facebook Messenger, where dynamic and personalized messaging, developed in collaboration with ACS, prompted them to start their own Facebook fundraisers. They were then coached on how to raise as much money as possible, recognized, and appreciated for their efforts. After the challenges, participants continued their conversation with ACS and continued their journey as active supporters of a cause they cared about.

But ACS wondered: If they had been participating in Relay For Life every year, what would happen once COVID was over? Would they abandon Relay For Life in favor of Facebook challenges and potentially reduce the scope of their support?

Cultivating a New Supporter Base Beyond the Pandemic

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Over 95% of Facebook challenge participants were new to the organization. Relay For Life did not lose its traditional supporter base nor was the event’s footprint diminished. Instead, they acquired thousands of new supporters.It was a huge success. In 2020, these Facebook challenges generated a combined total of 443,078 leads with an average cost per lead of only $3.12.

In October 2020, ACS smashed Facebook’s previous record for the most money raised by a single organization in a single day when they received 23,000 donations.

In total, more than 61k people created fundraisers as part of their participation in ACS’s 2020 challenges. All of this was accomplished at an incredibly affordable price point.

The average cost to acquire a fundraiser for the 2020 ACS Facebook challenges was just $22.41, compared to an industry benchmark of $600 to acquire a P2P registrant.

This means that ACS can get back to Relay for Life and other events once thepandemic subsides and continue to grow this new and powerful giving channel.

We exceeded every goal with this pilot. It won’t replace our traditional peer-to-peer fundraising, but it will work alongside it to bring in new constituents and drive revenue.
Dan Thorpe
National Vice President - Relay For Life, American Cancer Society

Summary

ACS managed to overcome the tremendous challenges that COVID presented,embrace new technology, and create a strong community in a new giving channelto fund its 2020 research programs. That is both remarkable and heartwarming toeveryone who knows someone touched by cancer.Facebook Challenges are now part of ACS’s ongoing fundraising mix, a pandemicinnovation that’s here to stay after the pandemic is over.