From street to screen: How our fundraisers are going virtual to support patients during COVID-19

This time last year, Calgary’s Eau Claire market was brimming with Canadian Blood Services supporters, all chatting, stretching and jogging in place in the crisp fall air before taking their marks behind the starting line for the annual Run for Calgary event. 

September 3, 2020

Runners take off from the starting line during last year’s Run for Calgary event on Sept.14, 2019. The 2020 Run for Calgary will be held virtually, on Sept.27

unners take off from the starting line during last year’s Run for Calgary event on Sept.14, 2019

This September, that same downtown waterfront pavilion will be significantly quieter during the upcoming race weekend.

That’s because the 2020 Run for Calgary — like many other charity events this year — is going virtual for the first time ever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2009, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association has been organizing this popular charity run/walk event through its Calgary chapter, to help raise awareness and support for various local organizations. The large Muslim youth group has over 90 local chapters across Canada and has partnered with and supported Canadian Blood Services for many years through blood drives and swabbing events.

In 2019, Run for Calgary organizers chose to direct all proceeds received through registration fees, sponsorships and an online fundraising campaign to Canadian Blood Services. The more than $18,000 raised (including $3,235 in online donations to Canada’s Lifeline) will directly support our national programs and initiatives that seek to recruit the next generation of donors.

Following the success of last year’s event, organizers again wanted to fundraise to help support Canada’s Lifeline in 2020 — but the ongoing pandemic meant they had to get creative with the event’s longstanding format, moving it from the streets to participants’ screens.

Event co-organizer Qamar Ahmad, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, said that while the pandemic has certainly posed new challenges, the online format of this year’s event means that supporters across the country — not just those in Calgary — can now participate.

“COVID-19 has not limited our efforts — rather, it has enhanced our focus on serving our communities across Canada,” he said.

This year, Run for Calgary organizers are encouraging Canadian Blood Services supporters from all corners of the country to sign up for a 10K run, 5K run, 3K walk or the new 10K cycling event. A portion of the proceeds from all registration fees will go towards supporting patients. Participants can then complete the distances they’ve registered for at their own convenience, between Aug.1 and Sept. 26, tracking their times through a downloadable app and submitting their results.

Runners, walkers and cyclists can also increase their impact by making a financial gift in support of Canadian Blood Services and asking their friends and family to do the same. Anyone who is not signed up to race can still participate by making a charitable donation through Run for Calgary’s fundraising page.

On Sept. 27, a live virtual event will celebrate all participants’ contributions and successes and award prizes to the top runners.

While the annual run is organized by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Qamar says that anyone and everyone who wants to help support patients in need is encouraged to sign up.

The only criteria for participation are the drive and desire to help the community at large.

“As Ahmadi Muslims, we deem it our duty and honour to serve the communities in which we reside,” said Qamar. “Across Canada, our various chapters hold blood drives in addition to [charitable walks], with our members being motivated by the ability to make a difference in the lives of our fellow community members.”

Ready, set, fundraise!

Register to participate in a walk, run or cycling challenge as part of the 9th annual Run for Calgary event — or make your financial gift and tune into the virtual event from the comfort of your home on Sunday, Sept. 27.

All funds raised will help support Canadian Blood Services’ national programs and initiatives, which seek to engage ethnically diverse groups in blood and stem cell donation and recruit the next generation of donors.

A shift online results in surprise success for fundraising fitness challenge

While Run for Calgary organizers are still hard at work spreading the word about the new virtual format of this year’s event, many of Canadian Blood Services’ fundraising champions have already proven that a pivot to online events means an opportunity to increase the impact of their lifesaving efforts even further.

Before COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Matt Goertzen and Alicia Souveny were planning a summer athletic challenge to raise funds in support of Canadian Blood Services. For the couple, their connection to Canada’s Lifeline is a very personal one.

In February 2019, Alicia exited her vehicle following a minor collision and was struck by an SUV on a busy Edmonton, Alta. highway. She ended up in the hospital in critical condition and needed more than 20 units of blood to survive the early days after the accident.

Both physiotherapists, Matt and Alicia’s lives are dedicated to movement — so when Alicia was discharged from the hospital, Matt’s physiotherapy clinic organized a 5K charitable run/walk to support her through her journey to recovery.

One year later, Alicia felt healthy enough to participate in an athletic challenge herself and wanted to again invite her community to give back, this time in support of Canadian Blood Services.

However, the in-person walk/run event she was envisioning was no longer possible due to the ongoing pandemic.

Determined to still make a difference for patients, Alicia and Matt shifted their plans and launched Step Up with Alicia, a virtual fundraising fitness challenge.

Throughout the month of June 2020, the pair asked participants to track their physical activity (e.g., distances walked, ran or biked, road hockey games played, etc.) via a mobile app and to share their achievements through social media. In addition to raising funds and awareness for blood donation, participants were also encouraged to donate blood if they were eligible.

Altogether, Matt and Alicia’s campaign raised more than $7,000 in support of Canadian Blood Services, far exceeding their initial $5,000 fundraising goal.

With no choice but to shift online, Matt said he wasn’t sure at first how their event would translate to a virtual environment. Looking back, he believes that their success was largely linked to the fact that people could participate in the campaign from anywhere and at any time.

“In a way, the [physical distancing restrictions] were a blessing in disguise because when you hold a 5K run, people can’t always participate,” said Matt.

“With a month-long virtual activity challenge, we were able to build much greater awareness and participation.”

When public health authorities began issuing guidance in March 2020 for individuals to avoid crowds and crowded spaces to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, many of our fundraising event organizers had to act quickly to adapt.     

In this new era of physical distancing, campaigns, celebrations and athletic events normally held in-person have had to shift to an online format.

Luckily, Canadian Blood Services’ creative community of fundraisers have barely missed a beat. 

By organizing your own virtual fundraising campaign this fall, you too can empower people in your community to give financially and discover new supporters who want to make a lifesaving difference for patients.

Visit to learn more.

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