What happened before the introduction of COVID-19 event restrictions in 2020?
Melanoma March had 24 marches scheduled for this year. It’s a very important month for Melanoma Institute Australia in terms of awareness, fundraising and ability for community to come together. The marches are held on Sundays throughout month. We held five marches on Sunday 8th March. COVID-19 had just started to be talked about in a serious way. But there was no restriction on events at that time.
We chose to be stricter than the restrictions. It became very apparent all events [for the rest of the month] would need to be cancelled. This included our signature event at Manly in NSW and events in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. It was a very difficult decision to make. A lot of hours had been put in by people and it had to be cancelled overnight. But we received positive feedback at the time that it was clear and decisive and the right thing to do.
How did you get community feedback on what to decide?
It was important but not easy to get at the time, as things were happening so fast. Our events are run by volunteer groups, normally one or two people and a bunch of their friends and family that are really keen to put on one of our events. Melanoma Institute Australia then provides the infrastructure and brings it all together nationally. We contacted the volunteer event committees and made a decision. We didn’t poll the broader community due to needing to do it so quickly, so we made [the decision] on their behalf.
What happened after cancelling?
Once we made the decision to cancel the physical event, we realised from a fundraising and awareness point of view that it was over. The decision around the virtual march was more intuitive, in that another and no less important element of our marches is community gathering and the ability for the community to feel supported by each other. The vast majority of people at marches are affected by melanoma, so it provides optimism and support for those that come. We felt we’d lose a big chunk of this. So, we felt quickly that we had to have a virtual event. But [when] we announced it, we didn’t know what it would be. [We just knew it was about] giving those that had worked so hard on their cancelled events an opportunity for their communities to come together in a virtual way.
How did you work through virtual event options?
It was based on our capacity. What we could do in such a short timeframe. We needed to be able to do something that allowed for the amount of restrictions occurring. We didn’t want to do something that required meet-ups and walking around the block. So we based it on family interactions and rememberance of those that we’ve lost to melanoma and to those that have it now. We knew that regardless of restrictions this could be achieved, so that’s why it was brought to something relatively simple but that people could be engaged with. Because people had their focus on COVID-19.
It was also about honouring the quality of the physical event we wanted to meet a relatively high standard. We asked our key collaborators for a one-minute video and we got a lot—so much was going on but people took the little bit of time, which was fantastic.
How did you implement moving from a physical to virtual event?
We told our community by social media and our regional media outlets re-did the releases and promoted the virtual march—they were fantastic. We didn’t push the fundraising, although people did still donate. It was asking people to come together to hear stories and share their own.
What are the lessons learned for future virtual events?
I don’t think it will replace the physical event in the future—I’d like to think we will still be able to do that. The support and camaraderie of having a group of a thousand people is hard to replace online. But we learned that rural and remote areas can be included in our marches, and we can provide those communities with a virtual event. And also for people with disabilities who may not be able to physically attend. So I see us having a combination of our physical and virtual event. It does give that additional access that we hadn’t necessarily thought of before [the restrictions].
Melanoma Institute Australia CEO Matthew Browne was interviewed by VTS. This article is based on the transcript and has been edited for clarity.
Melanoma March Virtual can be viewed here.