How large fundraising events are going virtual amid COVID-19

Instead of cancelling large events that normally bring thousands of people together, charities are shifting gears to create virtual events in hopes of raising millions of dollars.

CN Tower Climb for Nature, Sporting Life 10K switching gears during pandemic

Participants annually climb 1,776 steps of the CN Tower in support of the World Wildlife Fund Canada. This year, the WWF has moved the event to be a virtual experience by letting participants decide how and when they want to tackle the steps, but are encouraged to do so at a safe distance from others. (World Wildlife Fund Canada)

Instead of cancelling large events that normally bring thousands of people together, charities are shifting gears to create virtual events in hopes of raising millions of dollars.

Thousands of people would have climbed the CN Tower for Nature, organized by World Wildlife Fund Canada, on April 4 and 5 this year.  Last year, close to 6,000 participants walked up the stairs of the iconic skyscraper and raised nearly $1.4 million for wildlife.

But this year, World Wildlife Fund Canada is encouraging participants to get outside while maintaining a healthy distance from others and track 1,776 steps. That's what it takes to climb up the CN Tower.

"Whether it's doing a dance-a-thon in your backyard, or using your stair machine and trying to go up 144 flights... do whatever it is, [while] still raising money for wildlife," said Megan Leslie, CEO of WWF Canada. 

This spring marks the 30th year of the CN Tower Climb for Nature and it has the same financial target as last year. Registrants are asked to raise a minimum of $120.

Leslie said her organization moved quickly to make its fundraiser an online event after the CN Tower closed last week amid the pandemic.

She said one advantage of hosting something online is that others can join nationwide. 

Megan Leslie, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, is pictured at an annual CN Tower Climb for Nature. This year the WWF is asking participants to raise funds by walking 1,776 steps in nature. (World Wildlife Fund Canada)

"We're encouraging people across Canada. We're still able to get out in nature. That's a good way for us to stay healthy and use our time when we're all social distancing," she said.

Leslie said they're asking participants to track their steps with smart technology and upload their stories with #VirtualCNTowerClimb. The WWF is also exploring online activities and tools to share. 

"We're all in this period of healthy distancing. It's hard to feel connected to other people so we are trying to give an opportunity to all our climbers to feel like they're part of a community," she said.

She plans to take on the challenge with a virtual aerobics class. The funds raised for the WWF will go towards conservation work in Canada.

"We're aiming for a future where nature and people can thrive. So whether it's narwhal in the arctic, or right whales on the east, or orcas on the West Coast and everything in between, we want to support those wildlife," Leslie said.

Sporting Life 10K running ahead to support Camp Ooch

The Sporting Life 10K, which runs annually on Mother's Day, is also switching lanes to create a virtual experience on May 10.

The 10-kilometre run, which usually takes place down Yonge Street and draws upwards of 20,000 people, is in support of Camp Oochigeas (Camp Ooch). The program supports more than 1,900 kids and 745 families affected by childhood cancer from across Ontario. 

This year runners participating in the Sporting Life 10K will be asked to independently track their journeys using #WeStillRunForOoch (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)

"As the pandemic has taken hold, we really didn't want to let down our community. We also have critical funds to raise for the program," Alex Robertson, CEO of Camp Ooch, said.

"We decided: 'Let's not cancel the program, let's open it up.' With the virtual run, we're all in."

Participants are encouraged to independently walk or run 10-kilometres in May and share their journey using the hashtag #WeStillRunforOoch. 

Robertson said organizers will have technology in the coming weeks to help people connect online.

"We can do something apart, and still be together," he said. "We may not be asking folks to run down Yonge Street all at the same time, but every day there's thousands of runners running across Ontario. 

"So our idea is, let's collectively agree we're going to do 10 kilometres, whether it's walking or running. And we're doing it in our own time. Let's unite and help send kids with cancer to camp."

Toronto's annual Sporting Life 10K draws thousands of people on Mother's Day. This year organizers are hoping participants will run on their own and track their journeys online. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC )

Camp Ooch is aiming to meet last year's total of $2 million. The money goes toward running year-round community, in-hospital, and overnight camp programs at no cost to those affected by childhood cancer.

"Kids who are immunocompromised really miss connecting with friends and school because of their cancer treatment. That's where Camp Ooch comes in. We are the social cure for cancer. We allow kids to connect to kids like them and we take away that social isolation."

Robertson said he is hopeful to give the children the camp experience once the pandemic passes.

Positive response to event changes

Both WWF and Camp Ooch said feedback to their virtual shifts have been supportive and understanding.

They acknowledge that corporations are struggling in an uncertain economy, but they're pleased to hear sponsors have asked their staff to continue with their participation, even though it may look and feel a little different. 

"It's really inspiring to see," Leslie said. "People can do what they want to do. We really just want them to get active and to think about nature and if they can, get out in nature."

Robertson noted in the first few hours since Sporting Life announced the change, they had 30 people register.

"The Sporting Life 10K is a community event. It's a big family day and although we may not be able to do it at the same time and in the same place, our hope is it will unite the community in a really positive way by doing some real good for families in need."



Sannah Choi is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Toronto. She started as a TV reporter in her hometown at CBC Ottawa. She enjoys exploring her neighbourhood in Toronto's west end with her family. Contact her at