Event recap: Swim22’s digital platform creates a community of fundraisers

The second speaker at our event ‘Using digital to increase engagement and participation’ on 21st May was Mark Fox, Senior Events Manager at Diabetes UK. Mark took us through the journey of developing a digital platform for Swim22, the charity’s 3 month swimming challenge in which participants swim 22 miles (the length of the English channel) while raising funds.

Here’s a brief summary of his talk.


(Disclaimer: Manifesto built the Swim22 platform so this post might be a little bit biased.)

Swim22 earned its badges in years 1 and 2

Mark kicked of the talk by taking us through a brief history of Swim22.

The charity used to organise an actual channel swimming challenge in which swimmers would brave the stretch of sea between Kent and Calais. While this used to generate a lot of income for the charity the costs were also very high so Diabetes UK set about trying to find a way to make channel swimming accessible. Thus Swim22, where swimmers do the same distance but in the pool.

The timeframe of 3 months between February 22nd and May 22nd makes the challenge more doable for a broader swathe of swimmers and the timing misses the mad dash of fundraising challenges in January and extends that month’s fitness drive well into the spring.

(Swim22 wasn’t the original name, by the way, it was a lucky typo in the creative brief.)

Diabetes UK only has a small events team so a slimmed down challenge was ideal for them from a management perspective.

In the first couple of years Swim22 had no online registration system and very little marketing but still managed to attract over 400 swimmers per year and the low costs meant that it proved itself as a fundraising campaign.

In 2013 there was a short run up but the campaign still generated a very large return on investment.

But there wasn’t a community feel

After Diabetes UK partnered with Tesco for the challenge the need for a digital platform became more urgent – Tesco’s advertising clout meant they could expect a bumper number of sign ups in 2015.

But they also realised they could use a digital platform to overcome one of the main drawbacks of the Swim22 campaign to date – the lack of community among fundraisers.

This was a natural problem. The participants in Swim22 were distributed throughout the country. What’s more, research found that the motivation of many swimmers for taking part was a personal one. Though they might be warm to the Diabetes UK cause participants were often looking for a sense of achievement rather than collecting around a motivating cause.

Building for motivation and engagement

The platform that Diabetes UK and Manifesto came up with provides a simple, fun way for swimmers to keep track of their progress and inform their friends, family and colleagues about what they’re doing (along with a link to a JustGiving page so they can donate).


The really powerful features though are the ones that help build community and keep motivation going over a sustained sports challenge.

The milestone badges, with their tongue-in-cheek names, are designed to promote a sense of fun as they mark key moments (e.g. first distance entered, half way etc). They reinforce the personal achievement aspect, but in a non-competitive way.

The activity feed updates every time a participant enters a distance or unlocks a milestone. This encourages swimmers to check out other swimmers’ profiles and read their stories.


This page also contains a Twitter feed, further building the sense of community – a team of people acting in concert to achieve a particular aim, rather than isolated individuals each working toward a personal goal.

Did it work?

The platform was used by around half of all the participants in Swim22, the rest continued to use the traditional paper method. Fundraising is up significantly on last year – £128k has been raised already with money still trickling in.

Feedback from participants on the tool has been really positive – the feed and social features have really helped build a community out of the participants.

In previous years the Diabetes UK events team created a lot of personalised messages to help keep participants motivated. That was less necessary this year with the digital platform.

What’s next?

Planned enhancements for the platform include better social sharing functionality and support for teams of swimmers.

The platform has also been built with an eye to re-skinning it for other challenges e.g. cycling, walking.

Mark’s big takeaways

Mark gave the following two points as the key learnings for Diabetes UK:

  1. 1. Understand your audience – the tool was developed based on research into last year’s participants, which really paid off.
  2. 2. Don’t be afraid of taking risks – the platform represented a significant investment for Diabetes UK but it helped raise a lot more money

Thanks to Mark Fox for speaking at the event and for providing the material for this blog post.

You can read more about Manifesto’s part in developing the Swim22 platform here.


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