The British Red Cross is a long-established charity registered in the UK, and is part of a global voluntary network responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. Every year they encourage supporters to raise money whilst keeping active, either by taking part in a physical race, or the virtual sponsored challenge Miles for Refugees. Miles for Refugees encourages participants to sign up and pick a distance target in the month of September. Each distance reflects the journey a refugee may travel to reach safety.
With the majority of the year's races cancelled due to COVID-19, the charity decided to use a sponsored challenge to help make virtual event Miles for Refugees bigger than ever. Miles for Refugees debuted on Strava in 2019 in a slightly different format – the original challenge was only open to participants who registered to fundraise and paid a registration fee. In 2020, the challenge was made available to all Strava users, with an individual goal – to complete the challenge, athletes had to cover 72 miles (the distance from Damascus to Beirut) in the month of September. This shift had a dramatic effect on the number of participants, increasing from 300 in 2019 to almost 150,000 in 2020.
“We wanted to reach an audience of people who are passionate about challenging themselves physically”, remarked Miles for Refugees’ Innovation lead Bethan Morgan, about why the organization chose Strava. With gyms closed, team sports massively reduced and the race calendar almost completely nonexistent, 2020 saw a large number and diverse range of athletes head to Strava as their source of competition, motivation and camaraderie. The 2020 edition of Strava’s annual Year In Sport report highlights just how much the popularity of challenges soared year on year. This boom in challenge participants globally played a key role in encouraging athletes to take part in Miles For Refugees.
“Strava has been a great way to engage a new audience in Miles for Refugees, who we weren’t as easily able to reach with our existing marketing channels.”
The challenge kicked off on 1st September, and sought to appeal as many athletes as possible disenfranchised by the repercussions of COVID-19. To achieve this, the challenge was opened up to everyone – all 34 activity types counted towards the goal. To allow for the fact that not everyone was able to move around outside, manual activities counted too – so treadmill runs or walks as well as turbo-trainer sessions could all count towards the goal.
Although specifically targeted to all athletes in the UK, the challenge spread widely across the world owing to the viral joining effect of Strava challenges. As challenges are not restricted to specific countries, any athlete can join – and each time they do, an in-feed unit is generated advertising the challenge to all their followers, who can then also sign up. When athletes with a global following join a challenge, this causes the challenge to spread far beyond its original targeting. This worked in Red Cross’s favour – as a global non-profit organisation, they were able to receive donations from athletes in many countries around the world.
Arriving at a time when motivation to move was needed, Miles For Refugees proved highly popular – 149,518 athletes signed up to take part. Though the UK and USA were the two largest countries in terms of participation, athletes from Brazil, Germany, Spain and Indonesia were among the 176 nations represented. Between them, participants from Strava alone raised over £100,000 during the event – an astonishing figure. “I've just run 72 miles but this is insignificant compared to the challenges many refugees have faced. Thanks British Red Cross for bringing hope to the world” – the words of an anonymous Strava athlete who gave a one-off donation once they completed the challenge.
Of the almost 150,000 participants, 114,442 completed the challenge, with over 34 million kilometres travelled communally. The results of the challenge reported by British Red Cross highlighted the efficacy of running a Strava sponsored challenge alongside an existing marketing campaign, where the challenge acts as a hub for everyone involved.
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