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MS fundraising during a pandemic


Fundraising walks for multiple sclerosis (MS) should be familiar to everyone nationwide. They serve to raise money for MS, bolster public awareness of the disease, and build a sense of community. But such in-person events took a big hit during the pandemic.

Recently, this news organization spoke with Kristin Gibbs, vice president of Walk MS for the National MS Society. She described the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic on the National MS Society’s efforts to fundraise on behalf of the MS community.

How has the National MS Society raised money before the pandemic?

We are a peer-to-peer fundraising event. That means our registered participants ask their family, friends and coworkers to support them by donating. More than 90% of our participants are friends-and-family teams, and nearly everyone who participates in Walk MS has a connection to MS. We do also have corporate and national teams that fundraise, as well as national and local sponsors that provide monetary support of Walk MS.

About how many Walk MS events were held nationally in an average prepandemic year?

Going back to 2019, we held almost 400 Walk MS events. Next year, the Society will host 234 events, with at least one in each state. The reduction in the number of events reflects a prepandemic strategy of focusing our limited resources in areas where we can have the biggest impact.

How has the pandemic impacted fundraising and community building/outreach?

Fewer people registered and participated in our virtual events in 2020 and 2021, and the pandemic made it challenging for participants to fundraise. While normally we might see more than 200,000 participants nationally, in 2021 we attracted 40,000. Our fundraising decreased from nearly $40 million in prepandemic years to around $20 million in 2021. Our experience is similar to that of most nonprofit peer-to-peer events. However, we were encouraged by the individuals who did support Walk MS during the pandemic, as their fundraising averages were higher than prepandemic campaigns.

What kinds of ‘virtual events’ were held during the pandemic lockdowns?

When it comes to building community, during the pandemic we innovatively utilized online gathering technology, especially Teams, to bring our Walk MS participants together. We held numerous meetings for Team Captains and conducted pre-event pep rallies online to help share information and generate excitement. We produced Facebook Live broadcasts and launched a cutting-edge online version of a Walk MS event called Walk MS On Demand. On Demand visitors could create a virtual bib, learn about the Society, watch inspirational videos, and secure information from national and local sponsors.

How is fundraising handled nationally and locally?

In 2022 we will have 234 Walk MS events spread across the country. We are anticipating 100,000 participants will register and our goal is to raise $24 million. Our fundraising will come from individuals, teams, and corporations who contribute at the local and national levels. We are hopeful the excitement surrounding safely being back in person will allow the Walk MS campaign to quickly regain its financial and community-building impact.

Has the pandemic impacted corporate contributions?

We were extremely lucky to maintain support of our national sponsors, and to engage a strong number of local partners. Because we offered the Walk MS On Demand online experience where sponsors could showcase their companies in innovative ways, even though we were virtual we could provide our important partners with a unique way to connect to our constituents. That made a tremendous difference. Also, our partners are strongly committed to the mission and knew their continued support during the pandemic was critical to our organization.

How is the money distributed? Who benefits and how?

Walk MS is the United States’ 7th-largest nonprofit walk series, and the 12th-largest nonprofit event overall. Our Walk MS funds help provide support, programming, and research for individuals diagnosed with MS. Over the history of Walk MS, participants and sponsors have generated more than $1 billion to support those who live with MS.

How can clinicians and health care practitioners get involved?

There are several exciting ways for clinicians and health care practitioners to get involved in Walk MS. Many health care practitioners and clinicians form their own Walk MS teams and fundraise for the event – sometimes inviting patients to join them. Being at Walk MS with your team is an experience like no other when it comes to engaging with the MS community. Several health care organizations also sponsor their local Walk MS event and are able to showcase their brand in front of an important target audience. Still others support Walk MS as volunteers and many clinicians and health care practitioners spread awareness by promoting Walk MS to their patients. You can find ideas for Walk MS engagement and sponsorship details at WalkMS.org.

How do individuals with MS benefit from Walk MS initiatives?

Over its 30-plus-year history, Walk MS has generated more than $1 billion to support the Society’s mission to cure MS while empowering people affected by MS to live their best lives. Funds raised at Walk MS fuel cutting-edge MS research, power advocacy, generate awareness, and provide access to resources that connect those affected by MS to the information and people they need to live their best lives.

Any future plans?

Walk MS historically has been the society’s largest gathering. We are excited in 2022 to return to in-person events after a nearly 2-year hiatus. Society-hosted events will occur at 234 locations across the United States. The Walk MS season spans from February to June and you can register at WalkMS.org. New this year – and a carry-over from our pandemic experience – we’re offering a Your Way option. No matter where you are located or how you want to commemorate Walk MS, you can participate in this virtual option and still receive fundraising support and exciting prizes.



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