The Dempsey Center, located in Lewiston, Maine, was founded by actor Patrick Dempsey in 2008 in response to a question he was asked on the red carpet. What was he passionate about? He had an ‘aha’ moment as he tells it, and a newfound purpose to support the cancer community in Maine − his childhood home and a state with some of the highest cancer rates in the United States today. It was personal for him too. His mom Amanda died from ovarian cancer. He knew the many challenges cancer brings, and ensured that the Dempsey Center would offer free, holistic support to cancer patients and their families. His rallying cry for the Center’s mission: “Nobody beats cancer alone. It takes a team.”
Amgen is proud to be the presenting sponsor of the Dempsey Challenge, an annual run/walk/bike event in September which has grown into the primary fundraising event for the Dempsey Center.
When COVID hit, we knew that the Dempsey Challenge could not safely happen as an in-person event, and that we would need to re-imagine this important fundraiser. In redesigning the campaign, we sought to leverage the power of Amgen’s growing social media audience and to pivot from a ‘sneakers on the ground’ approach to a virtual campaign that invited everyone, everywhere to participate. Knowing that this year is challenging for many, the Center set an ambitious fundraising goal of $1.5M. Patrick levied his public persona and incredible reach on social media to drive success.
The success of the Dempsey Challenge is contingent upon two behaviors: participation and fundraising. The key to this year’s success was motivating people to change their behavior and join a virtual version of the challenge and fundraise in an unprecedented year of a global pandemic, financial hardship for many and overall uncertainty and unease. Amgen worked with the Dempsey Center to design a robust social media campaign that would tap into the collective followers of our company social media channels, the Dempsey Center social media channels and, most importantly, Patrick Dempsey’s extensive follower network on Instagram (5.1M followers), Facebook (1.9M) and Twitter (1.4M).
We knew the reimagined challenge had to raise awareness and educate, expand the reach beyond Maine’s borders, and get people to participate in order to have a shot at reaching the new benchmark set for fundraising.
For the run/walk/bike aspect of the event, donors were encouraged to register as virtual challengers, joining an online community in Strava, a fitness-focused social network for runners and cyclists. From Strava, participants could rally friends to join them through social sharing, but more critically, they could encourage their friends to also support the Center philanthropically. This peer-to-peer fundraising approach further extended the event’s reach, tapping into the participants own social networks.
We began posting about the virtual challenge one month out and included a steady cadence of multimedia content to create an emotional connection to the work being done by the center to help patients and their families. We also followed where social media was heading in 2020 and hosted our first-ever Instagram Live featuring Patrick Dempsey. Patrick did a ‘walk & talk’ through the Center live on Instagram, attracting thousands of views and a bump in traffic to its website.
Additionally, the Dempsey Center updated its challenge page to reflect the color scheme of the social media campaign, our company website published an article about the virtual challenge and internally we promoted the event (including the IG Live) to employees.
The challenge weekend raised $1.2M, roughly on par with previous years. Although we fell short of the $1.5M stretch goal, we were happy to meet our previous benchmark using this new fundraising approach. Our social media metrics help tell the story of how we were able to maintain this success despite so many changes. Some highlights include: 532K+ video views across Amgen social channels, 7K+ views of our IG Live event with Patrick, 15K clicks through to the Dempsey Challenge website from our channels. On the Dempsey side, all 50 states and 45 countries, including Italy, Canada and Brazil, had participants. On Strava, 122K+ people joined the challenge community, logging 36M miles of activity.
We didn’t overcomplicate the campaign objective. It began and ended with the fundraising goal to ensure that all the good work the center does can continue without financial hardship. This was ultimately achieved through the great partnership we had with the Dempsey Center and Patrick Dempsey and our shared value: patients first.