This post is the first in a mini-series highlighting ways planners have continued to strengthen support for Duke and our communities through virtual events. 

The Stay Away 5K event is a spring fundraiser, friend-raiser, and awareness-building virtual event and promotion for the Duke Lemur Center. It is a race that can be run, walked, hiked, cycled or swum, wherever you are during a weekend timeframe.  Our Stay Away 5K debuted in 2020 as a virtual fundraiser, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to look for new donors and new sources of support.  We had no idea how successful we might be, so financial goals were quite open-ended. Nonetheless, we were optimistic that registrations and donations would take off, and they did!  

What elements did you incorporate in your virtual event to engage attendees? 

A t-shirt design contest was one way we added an element of fun, and brought attention and interest to the event well before registration opened. We invited a few special guests to help us judge the finalists and select the winner. All registrants received a commemorative race t-shirt printed with the winning design, and we encouraged participants to post and share photos of themselves and their families and pets participating in the race. Facebook photo album of StayAway5K 2020 participants 

What special resources and skills were needed to produce your virtual fundraiser? 

We were entirely new to a virtual race, so it was a huge learning curve for all of us. The registration process was customized for the event through collaboration with the Duke Web Gifts team. The t-shirt supply chain logistics were managed by Business Manger Melissa Dean and Student and Volunteer Programs Coordinator Erin Hecht, with support from a fantastic team of volunteers. 

The Lemur Center works hard year-round to build upon its strong following on social media. That solid base of friends and followers was a critical component to our success. We also have staff whose savvy skills with promotions on those platforms were essential. As such, our Director of Communications, Sara Clark, led the planning and framework for this virtual event. 

At the Duke Lemur Center, all of our events – whether virtual or in person – require a true team effort. We take an “all hands on deck” approach, and care deeply about our events being successful in order to build relationships, support, and awareness about our work – that’s our motivation for success! 

What was the most unexpected benefit you experienced with your virtual event? 

Our Stay Away 5K events were so successful that we plan to do one every year, even once face to face events are permitted! With thousands of participants, the 5K brought in just under $75,000 in 2020 and exceeded $75,000 in 2021. We engaged friends and supporters located all over the world, and were connected with new supporters we would not have met otherwise. 

A race draws the attention and support of individuals who have not previously donated, including avid runners and outdoor enthusiasts. Many have said that they plan to participate every year. These new donors fit really well within our existing base of donors who value our connection with Duke University, and who follow and support the work of the Duke Lemur Center: conservation efforts, helping endangered species and scientific research. As an example, one of our new 5K participants recently joined the advisory board of a foundation. She followed up to learn more about our work, so she might pursue funding from that foundation for the Duke Lemur Center. 

In 2021, we chose to hold the event the weekend after Earth Day. With this timing, we can highlight the very important work we do to protect lemurs—Earth’s most endangered group of mammals—as well as our conservation work in Madagascar. This strategy worked so well that we plan to schedule the same weekend every year. 


What advice do you have for colleagues planning a virtual fundraiser? 

Virtual event promotions like this one can become a tradition that brings people together and allows you to tell your story. Encourage event participants to sign up for your newsletters and give them opportunities to connect in other ways. The impact of gifts you receive through these promotions can be felt long after the event ends. 


Virtually yours, 

Mary Paisley 

Development Officer 

Duke Lemur Center