This year in Facebook virtual challenges… 2022 edition

Dan Papworth-Smyth
6 min readDec 14, 2022

Observations of what’s going on in the world of Facebook virtual challenges

Screenshots of hundreds of Facebook adverts from different charities for virtual challenges in 2022

What a year it’s been! Back in February I decided to start blogging about what I’d been seeing in the Facebook virtual challenge space. What started as a few tweets became this series which has been read more than 3,500 times and led to some really kind comments (thank you!).

Anyway, I’ll save more waffle for the end so let’s get to what you’ve come here for…

In 2022 I’ve seen:

  • More than 450 Facebook challenge Groups
  • 1.1m combined Group members
  • 2,500 average members per challenge Group
  • October was the busiest month for challenges (61 Groups) followed by March (50) and May (49)
  • February challenge Groups had the highest combined membership (166,007) followed by October (147,731) and then March (142,865)
  • December had by far the fewest Group members (27,302), which was 84% lower than the highest month (February)
  • 186 different charities and non-profits had Facebook challenge Groups in 2022
  • Maggie’s hosted the most Groups in 2022, followed by Macmillan, Cancer Research UK, Great Ormond Street, and Breast Cancer Now
A bar chart showing total Group membershup by month in 2022. February, March and October are highest, while December and January are lowest

Largest Facebook challenge Groups in 2022

  1. Maggie’s 50 Mile Challenge, January 2022: 41,100 members*
  2. Cancer Research UK 100 Skips a Day in October: 30,000 members
  3. Teenage Cancer Trust 2,800 Squats in February: 28,100 members
  4. Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity 1,400 Squats in February: 23,300 members
  5. Cancer Research UK Run 56 Miles in February: 20,300 members

This top 5 of the largest Facebook challenge Groups in 2022 made up 12% of the total Group members across all challenges this year, and 4 of the 5 occurred during the first 2 months.

Just to note, these Group sizes were accurate at the time of recording them, but I’m aware that there may well be discrepancies with the data that these organisations have on their own events.

*combined across 10 regionalised Groups

Pie chart showing the split of Facebook challenge Groups in 2022. Almost half of the pie is made up of walking events, with fitness the next largest at around a third, and running the next largest

Walking challenges

Walking events, step challenges and dog walks made up 47% of the Facebook challenge Groups I saw this year. This isn’t a surprise given they’re also the challenges with typically the lowest barrier to entry for potential participants. While dog walking challenges seemed to be growing in the number of charities offering them, they still only made up just over 7% of the walking challenges in 2022.

Here’s the top 5 distances or counts for these events in terms of the percentage of total walking events:

  1. 100 Miles, 18%
  2. 300,000 Steps, 9%
  3. 100km, 9%
  4. 10,000 Steps per day, 9%
  5. 50 Miles, 6%

There were 50 different ways that charities packaged walking challenges this year, whether that was by distance, by step or even by time.

Fitness challenges

These made up the second largest segment of Groups I saw in 2022, with 20% of all the challenges counted falling into this category. As you can see there’s one stand out type of fitness challenge that was definitely the most common this year…

  1. Squats, 41%
  2. Burpees, 10%
  3. Push ups, 9%
  4. Sit ups, 7%
  5. Skipping, 5%

I’ve seen more yoga events coming through too now, with that taking the 6th spot with 4% of the total. Followed by planking, hula hooping and pilates. I wasn’t expecting to see squats being by far the most prevalent challenges and will be interesting to see whether that’s something that continues, or whether a wider spread of challenges grows into 2023.

Running challenges

Running and jogging made up the third largest group of event types, with 16% of the Groups I found in 2022 falling into this category. Of the 21 different event distances in 2022, the most common distances for these challenges were:

  1. 50 Miles, 25%
  2. 100km, 10%
  3. 31 Miles, 7%
  4. 60 Miles, 6%
  5. 100 Miles, 4%

It’s interesting to see the dominance of miles as the unit of distance as opposed to km here, as well as the lengths being between 31–62 miles for the top 4 most common run challenges.

Large Groups

Throughout my reporting this year, I’ve been keenly following Groups with more than 5,000 members. Why 5,000? Well it’s a fairly arbitrary number which felt large when compared to the average Group size that has been shown this year. Not very scientific, but hopefully helps to shape some insight anyway.

Line chart showing the proportion of Groups larger than 5,000 members by month. There has been a declining trend since January to December with the exception of November 2022 which rose up to be the same as March

In Q1 (Jan-Mar) there were 28 Facebook challenge Groups that achieved or surpassed this milestone. By Q2 (Apr-Jun) that had dropped to 18, and over the summer for Q3 (Jul-Sept) down further still to just 10 Groups. By Q4 (Oct-Dec) it had picked up slightly and 16 Groups reached the 5,000 mark but what this all still shows is that as the year has gone on, it has become harder and harder for Groups to reach those heady heights. If you look at the two halves of the year, there’s 77% more Groups over 5,000 members in the first (46) as the second (26). All this is reflected in average Group size too, with a drop of 600 members when comparing the first half of the year to the latter half.

As this space continues to mature, it’s looking like it’ll be harder and harder to recruit those large Groups that we used to see. The challenges that do tend to have the best chance are those in the fitness challenge ‘genre’, with Cancer Research UK showing as recently as October that such sizes are still achievable.

Comparison with 2021

I only started recording what I was seeing from August 2021 onwards, but for those last 5 months of 2021 there were 72 Groups with a combined 237,460 members (3,505 average per challenge Group).

Looking at that same period in 2022, I’ve seen 185 Groups (157% increase year-on-year) with a combined 431,755 members (82% higher than 2021) making for an average Group size of 2,334 (a 33% drop).

Facebook challenges in 2022

This year has seen a marked change in this area of fundraising, but one that also potentially gives us clues as to its longer term role.

As the market matures I’ve seen a huge growth in the number of organisations, of all sizes, putting their own challenges on. The proliferation in options of third party tools, as well as newer native functionality means it’s easier than ever to give these challenges a go. The challenge of this is that the number of people we are marketing to has largely stayed the same on Facebook and Instagram. Which in turn means there’s increased competition, leading to the decline in average Group sizes and higher CPAs. This doesn’t mean there’s not room for them all, or that there aren’t enough people to go around, but it does mean that we have to be more realistic with returns and more creative with how we create thumb-stopping adverts and highly-converting Groups.

One of the other big challenges those of us in this space will have, is around re-education of the expectations and their part in the fundraising mix. When people hear ‘Facebook challenges’ they can jump to assumptions, so it’s important for them to understand the context of where the market is now. For some, those heady heights are still achievable, but for others, being more realistic with context like this hopefully helps to go into activity more informed.

It’s going to be really exciting to see what changes 2023 brings and how the market continues to evolve. Will we see more on-platform initiatives from Meta? Or will the rise in messaging-supported stewardship continue to build momentum? Do we see Facebook’s regular giving tools becoming involved? Or whole new challenges that haven’t been tried yet? Whatever happens, I know it’ll be fascinating and I’ll be watching closely as ever.

Thanks so much for reading to the end and supporting these posts this year, I’ve really appreciated it. This is likely to be the last in the series I’m afraid as while I’ve loved doing them, they do take a lot of time.

This, and the full archive, will stay here as a continuous reference as we move into 2023. You can go back to read the previous editions for November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March and February.

As always, a caveat, this is data based on the Groups I’ve been able to find each month. I’m really sorry if I’ve missed anything.

Best of luck for everyone’s challenges in 2023!

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Dan Papworth-Smyth

Head of Digital Engagement at @BreastCancerNow, formerly of Breast Cancer Care and @TeenageCancer. Sometimes I take photos too. Views are my own.