Customer Acquisition Marketing Manager
Livestreaming holds incredible potential to expand your supporter audience to those you might not be reaching with your current fundraising efforts. Livestreamers — from gamers to musicians to makeup artists — not only create content consumed by millions of viewers on streaming platforms like Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube, they also rally around causes close to their hearts.
As one of the world’s top five cancer research centers, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (PMCF) is known for its game-changing scientific achievements and exceptional patient care. Their annual streaming event, Quest to Conquer Cancer, is an opportunity to diversify their revenue and reach a new demographic of supporters harnessing Livestream Fundraising, also known as charity streaming, and the gaming community.
We spoke to Brendan Ennis, PMCF’s Director of Corporate & Community Partnerships.
What is The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation’s Mission?
Our mission is to conquer cancer in our lifetime. Myself like many of my colleagues that work at the foundation as well as our participants and donors obviously have a strong connection to our cause. We are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest clinicians and researchers who help make us one of the top five cancer research centers in the world. Those individuals are saving lives every day and changing the standards of care not only for Canadians, but that work reaches cancer patients around the world. Their persistence and passion to innovate is infectious, but their funds are limited. That’s where philanthropy and the foundation’s fundraising come in.
How did you start building a livestream fundraising program?
Even though we officially launched our first livestreaming program in 2020, the work actually began in 2017. As we do with any of our events, we wanted to make sure we were entering into the space having done our homework. We're always looking at what our neighbors and charities around us are doing in the peer-to-peer space. By chance, we came across livestreaming programs at that time that really caught us by surprise. To see the millions of dollars being raised online was a real eye-opener. And for us, it wasn't just, you know, well let's, let's jump in head first. It took a lot of education, because we also had to convince not just our small internal team, but the leadership team and the board of why we would need to enter into the space.
It was a long process of learning about what was successful in other organizations’ events, seeing how it was changing year over year, understanding how big the industry was, and how best to approach it.
It was a long road to get the buy-in, but once we did we didn’t want to just put up a website and hope that people would come, we knew we had a gap in our space. We were a group of fundraisers who had expertise in peer-to-peer fundraising, but we had zero experience in the gaming industry or community. But by recognizing that, we felt we could build a team to fill in those gaps. We hired a dedicated resource who could help us find those content creators and partnerships and speak with authenticity about their industry knowledge.
Once we had that, we were able to put our resources and learnings to the test to go out and start small with a pilot event, then year after year continue to grow the programs from there.
What are some of the advantages of Livestream Fundraising?
Connecting your cause to a mission-aligned community allows for stronger engagement and local advocates.
Some early mistakes PMCF made in getting into this space was treating it very differently from anything else we do. We focused so much on the brand and the gaming aspect vs. the elements that make all our events successful:
- Year-round engagement
- Relationship building vs. transactional engagement
- A dedicated person or team following a clear plan
We got so excited about what was new in terms of potential streamers or partners and gifts in kind that were “cool,” that we were less focused on how to maximize ROI. How to connect our cause and engage this new (to us) community with our cause. Yes, donations coming from around the world are exciting, however, we saw our biggest revenue drivers started locally.
On your traditional events, like a bike ride, you don’t focus your stewardship activities on the individual donors, you focus on the participant who is raising those funds on your behalf. This is also where having a content creator on your fundraising team comes in. Having their voice on the frontlines following those steps will be a big part of helping the program continue forward year after year, so you aren’t having to start from scratch.
Having a content creator on the team unlocks a new level of expertise for your organization.
Having a content creator on our team provides us with a level of expertise we just don’t have as traditional fundraisers. Our team has great experience selling sponsorship, recruiting for walks or rides, but the learning curve to recruit for a charity stream, for us, needed a voice who understands the challenges, the community, and the opportunities in a more personal way. The nuances of how to use certain social media in this space are very different from how we use it for our other events.
Our team’s content creator herself is a creator, someone who builds communities and naturally did things we as fundraisers call stewardship. When we were hiring, we were looking for something different, a marketing role with gaming experience. After meeting her, we realized we needed something more unique. For us, this works for our team and our organization's needs. I think individual organizations should look and see what gaps they have internally and who knows, you may have someone on staff who’s already a content creator and you just don’t know it yet.
Expanding the reach to a global audience creates a diversified revenue stream.
The Princess Margaret is located in Toronto, Canada, however, our reach from a research standpoint is global. From partnerships to world-class doctors and researchers who train or work in Toronto, we have an impact that reaches far beyond Toronto and Canada. That said, our typical donors or participants come more locally. Through our Quest to Conquer Cancer program, it was surprising to learn that we found a way to truly communicate our broader reach.
Of the three Quest to Conquer Cancer campaigns we’ve executed so far on DonorDrive, we’ve been able to raise $1.3M, with over 1.2K fundraisers, and over 16K donors. Of that, 64% of our donations came from outside Canada — from 71 different countries.
What are the keys to success when building a Livestream Fundraising strategy?
We've had a lot of inspiration and help along the way: Toronto’s a huge hub for the gaming industry, so we have a lot of expertise we were able to draw from in helping guide us. Knowing other existing charitable events, we were able to draw on what’s been successful. We admire the work that's done at other organizations but also know there are partners in the space that are willing to share what works. It came down to finding the right partners who were willing to co-create what will work for us.
We had to be sure we came in with an authentic voice, not just be a beneficiary of it hoping people would stream for us. We needed to become a part of the community and now, we have a balanced team of people who are either from a business development background or a fundraising background or a content creator themselves. We find by just being our authentic selves in a community that truly appreciates authenticity, they're very welcoming. I don't have to hide the fact that I'm not a gamer, if anything, people want to show me and teach me and try to include me. It's been really great so far.
Fostering and showing value to the relationships, as you would for a traditional event, will allow for year-over-year engagement. We are fortunate to have a local organization — Digital Extremes, the creators of the video game Warframe — who’ve brought their whole community into our cause and it's something they've been connected with from the start. It's something they spend a lot of time and effort on and they really have helped us understand how best to go forward in terms of our fundraising message as well as building something that's engaging for our supporters.
Embracing the experiences and importance of events that connect our community is key. We had the opportunity to attend TwitchCon and the engagement is … I've never seen anything like it. People are genuinely engaged in what we're trying to do. They’re appreciative that there are a number of different charities out here trying to do this and they want to share their stories. To have people say, here's why I do charity streams, whether it's for us or other charitable organizations, that's been a great experience.
Somebody coming up, seeing the sign Conquer Cancer, and then saying, “I've never done something like this,” but their mother had just been diagnosed with cancer, and they're going through treatment. Wanting to know how the funds being raised are being used. There's so much light and energy in this room you don't expect to have a real personal connection over something so personal, their family’s story and their family's journey. Having those types of emotional connections while we're here was not something we were anticipating, but it goes to show, there's a reason a lot of charities are here, and there's a reason the gaming community is so successful at making change. And it's because, for them, it is really personal, and they do want to share this story.
What’s the future hold for Livestream Fundraising?
Everything is changing and moving quickly and charities should stay on top regarding upcoming trends and games. Embracing technology as one of our key partners. The stuff we're doing with DonorDrive — a platform that understands how the content is created, how it's broadcast out, how people are consuming this content, and then how to layer over a fundraising element — makes it a lot easier for us as a charity to learn from that, use the tools, share the tools, instead of having to make it up ourselves.
It is clear that the fundraising opportunities within the space can vary from different genres / categories, whether it’s video gaming or a hobby. It also helps to find creators that have a direct connection with your cause as it provides a stronger message toward their community and acts as a stronger motivation for their interest in the charity streams.
What about livestream fundraising do you wish other organizations knew?
You don’t have to treat Livestream Fundraising any differently than you would a traditional event. Yes, live streams are different from live events, but the fundraising tactics that are successful are the same. You can’t simply “build it and they will come.” You need to approach it the same way you have with any traditional peer-to-peer event. Take what works from your more traditional events and layer it in here. There has been a huge increase in online users and charities should recognize the potential to steward these individuals, teams, or organizations through this opportunity. That has been a key learning for us.
Support and educate your content creators. Knowing the right communities is crucial and a learning curve as it depends on the closeness of the creator vs. their community. Community support is a very important aspect of the fundraising space within livestreams and gaming. Don’t let this be just a transactional relationship, support your content creator as you would any other traditional event partner.
Charities should have an open mind regarding the fundraising opportunities within the livestream and gaming space. For ultimate success, both for your organization and your content creator relationships, find content creators who resonate or are aligned with your cause and your mission.