Relay For Life Case Study

SOFII’s view

A community fundraising event that demonstrates the importance of creating a value proposition that will resonate emotionally with its target audience.

Summary / objectives

American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is the world’s largest community fundraising event and its signature walk to raise money to beat cancer. More than four million people in over 20 countries come together and honour cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost and fight the disease by raising funds that will go to cutting-edge research. Relays are 24-hour overnight events in which teams walk or run continuously in recognition of the fact that cancer never sleeps. To date Relay For Life has raised nearly $5 billion.


In 1985 a cancer surgeon called Dr Gordy Klatt decided to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.  To raise money he decided to walk and run around an athletics track in Tacoma, Washington.  During his challenge family, friends and members of the local community came to support Dr Klatt who went onto raise $27,000.

As he circled the track, he thought about how he could get others to take part.  The following year a 24-hour team event was introduced with 19 teams taking part and Relay for Life was born.

Relay For Life is tied closely with the cause and it recognises the many different groups of people impacted by cancer. There are three main parts to each Relay For Life event: the Survivors Lap, the Luminaria Ceremony and the Fight Back Ceremony. These symbolic traditions serve to promote the core elements of the Relay For Life’s message: celebrate, remember and fight back.

Special characteristics

Relay For Life is led by a committee of local volunteers who work to bring teams of eight to 12 people together.  

During this 24-hour event, the teams camp out overnight and take it in turns to walk, run, or crawl around a track.  Each team is required to have at least one member on the field at all times to symbolise how the fight against cancer never sleeps. Special highlights of the event include the cancer survivors lap and reception, activities to raise awareness of cancer prevention and the moving candle of hope ceremony, when the event stops to remember those who lost their battle against cancer.

Influence / impact

Relay For Life mobilises communities and has created a movement that has inspired people across the world.

Relay For Life, 31 years later, is the world’s biggest fundraising event having raised more than $5 billion. In the USA, 5,200 communities and 465 college campuses will host their own relays this year.  

In the 1990s the American Cancer Society began to offer development grants to other cancer charities around the world to enable them to adopt Relay For Life. Today more than four million people in 26 different countries will participate in relays raising $80 million.

Integrated mission delivery can be achieved by the events key components bringing the organisations services together (e.g. research, advocacy, cancer awareness and cancer survivorship).

Other relevant information

Gary Kernahan, Head of Regional Development at Muscular Dystrophy UK, presented Relay For Life at I Wish I'd Thought Of That IWITOT 2016.

American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of South Philadelphia contracted PRowl Public Relations between September 9, 2010 and May 2, 2011, to create a strategic communication plan to create monthly pre-event fundraisers and to promote the day-of event.

The target audience included church members and groups, South Philadelphia schools, community groups and centers, including women’s organizations, recreational sports leagues and local athletic teams, fitness and wellness centers, firefighters and policemen, Southern New Jersey schools, members of the armed forces in the Philadelphia area, retail boutiques, Philadelphia fashion students, beauty salons and spas, and local restaurants and cafes

PRowl Public Relations’ main goals were to assist the American Cancer Society in achieving the fundraising goal of $56,000 and to increase attendance at Relay For Life of South Philadelphia.

The campaign was built on the premise that the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of South Philadelphia is a fun, meaningful and effective way to become involved in local philanthropic efforts and the fight against cancer.

After extensive research, PRowl Public Relations developed a campaign based on six events: Relay For Life of South Philadelphia Kick-Off Party 2011, Skate For Life, Purple Tie Happy Hour, Strike Out Cancer and Spare Lives Bowling Fundraiser, Relay International: Paint the Town Purple Fashion Show Fundraiser, and Relay For Life of South Philadelphia. All events were promoted through social media campaigns, media relations work, community outreach and informational and promotional materials.

The Relay For Life of South Philadelphia Kick-Off Party 2011 was well attended and received media placement, despite time constraints leading up to the event. Skate For Life exceeded its goal 100 attendees by 6 and raised $409. Purple Tie Happy Hour received placement in a variety of regional media outlets. The event failed to meet its 50-person goal by twelve, but raised $350 for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of South Philadelphia. 

The Strike Out Cancer and Spare Lives Bowling Fundraiser received placement in several mom blogs, had a 170 people in attendance, a 29 percent increase from the previous year and raised $1,962. Relay International: Paint the Town Purple Fashion Show Fundraiser sold 50 tickets and raised a total of $2,500 and received coverage from local broadcast, 6abc

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of South Philadelphia occurred after the end of PRowl Public Relations’ contracted period. However, PRowl Public Relations created and distributed sponsorship packages to over 600 local businesses, created a comprehensive social media guide instructing participants and team captains on how to utilize channels such as Facebook and Twitter most effectively for their fundraising goals, created a media kit that was uploaded to the ACS website, produced Save the Date and a Relay For Life fliers, created media and contact lists with more than 80 contacts, produced a press release and media alert, wrote and delivered business letters, and team formation letters, and promoted the event through social media before the end of the contracted period. 


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